By Kristan Krogman
The annual meeting of the Mellette County Historical Society was well attended last Wednesday with close to fifty people on hand.
An abundance of hearty potluck dishes was enjoyed by all before Sena Lauritsen of the Historical Society introduced guest speaker Jean Kary.
Kary is well known in the area for her inclination toward local history. She has been a regular contributor to the West River History Conference for the past eighteen years, and she remembers that it was Esther Letellier who got her to her first one. She thoroughly enjoyed that first experience and has submitted numerous papers to the conference in the years since. It was from one such paper that Kary spoke on Wednesday.
The stores run by the Abourezk family, namely the stores in Wood and Mission, were the topic of the evening
Charles Abourezk was born in Lebanon and came to America in 1898. He was married to Lena Mickel and in 1911 the Abourezk Store in Wood was opened. Another store was opened in Mission in 1920. During that same year, after Charlie had gone overseas and was detained due to circumstance brought about by World War I, the celebration that came upon his return was worthy of note. The family reunited and the entire town joined in the celebration of Charlie’s long awaited return.
All of the family was involved in the store operations, and later, it was the Abourezk children that took over operation of the stores. Son Jim Abourezk is not remembered so much for his time at the store as for his time in politics. Kary recommended his book, Advise and Dissent, and encouraged everyone to read it.
Jean remembered the rationing that came with the second World War. Purchasing items with blue and red tokens and filling the stamp books, being allowed just one pair of shoes per year, and trading scrap metal for items like a tube of toothpaste.
There were many other personal memories, too, with the Abourezk’s business at the core. As a kid, the clear candy jars that let their contents show through were the big draw. The chocolate cookies with the frosting covered marshmallows were a favorite and who could forget the jars filled with vinegar and a corn cob stuck in the top as a plug.
The store had something for everyone, and it wasn’t just groceries that were on hand. There were western clothes, canning supplies, newspapers, postcards, and most anything one might be in need of. Saturday nights were especially busy. It was the day everyone came to town.
It wasn’t just the locals, Abourezk’s in Mission was something of a local Wall Drug. They had many things to attract the tourists and took advantage of various forms of advertising to draw more customers. “Best water east of the Pacific” read one of their highway signs. The texas longhorn mounts, the Indian bead work, and even Black Hills gold catered to tourists and locals alike.
Kary shared that it was at Abourezk’s that she purchased her first piece of Black Hills gold jewelry, a ring she picked out when her husband told her to buy herself a Christmas present.
It was a homey atmosphere, the Abourezk Store. The clerks were cheerful and helpful in every way, and they always made you feel especially welcome. When the family sold the store in 1974 and moved to Rapid City, it was the end of an era. The overall shopping experience was altered. The feel “wasn’t as personal” said Kary, and you no longer seemed like part of a family.
Charlie had passed away in 1951, Lena died in 1973.
As the evening progressed, the business portion of the meeting came. President Julie Brandis reported on the many activities of the previous year, many of which have become annual events. The plant sale and bake sales, a Valentine’s Dinner and Branding Party, and Santa Day with 52 decorated Christmas trees are some of those highlighted.
The Museum hosted 47 meetings through the year and several other items were noted: the new flag pole, the impending inventory project, and the dissolution of the Community Swimming Pool Fund with the treasury donated to the Museum, among them. Eleven regular volunteers logged a majority of the total volunteer hours that equaled 573 working days. Brandis made a special presentation to Sam Fire Cloud and Wilma Farley who have been especially instrumental in Museum upkeep through the year, Wilma inside and Sam outside. Jerry Bottger was honored with a Lifetime Membership for all the hours he’s donated in handling much of the Museum’s electrical work. Jean Schmidt, Sena Lauritsen, Donna Adrian, Jeannine Woodward, Rose West, and Donna Ryberg were also recognized for their contributions. Brandis was also recognized for her leadership contributions as president and she will remain in that capacity through the coming year.
Willis Dickson spoke of some of the county “firsts” credited to the city of Wood. The first post office, the first homestead, the first Masonic Hall and the first school district in the county are among the various “firsts” they’re entitled.
Finally, the evening concluded with a presentation by the Kary family. They donated a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal Ann Ross Kary Anderson was posthumously awarded with in 2010. Ann Ross Kary, a native of Mellette County, was one of only 1,800 women who flew in the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) program during World War II. These were the first women in American history to pilot military aircraft and their service went unnoticed for many years. Their ground-breaking contributions won them one of the highest civilian awards there is in the United States, the Congressional Gold Medal, in 2010.