This weekend marked the end of two eras in South Dakota, one in the press and one in music.
Although public knowledge for a while, Terry Woster officially said good bye Sunday with a front page column in the local daily. After 40 years in the news business, Terry took an early retirement package as the Gannett layoffs hit the paper. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Terry for roughly 30 of those years and have always viewed him as one of the most honorable and best reporters — and people — I’ve known.
From the standpoint of a journalist, I learned a lot from Terry, the unquestionable dean of the South Dakota capitol/legislative press corps. It started in 1976, when I did a political science internship in Pierre. Even though I wasn’t a working member of the media, I tended to hang out in the press room at the Capitol, in large part because I was friends with Terry’s brother, Kevin. That session I absorbed a lot about how the legislature and press corps operates by observing and listening to Terry’s insight. And Terry treated me like he treated everyone — you were presumed a friend until you gave reason for him to believe otherwise. In fact, two years later he was largely responsible for getting me a stringer position for the June primary election.
Two years after that, we were competitors. He was still with AP and I was working for UPI during the 1980 session. Even though we worked for competing organizations, the professional courtesy and camaraderie of the journalism world meant Terry was willing to help with a lot of my rookie questions and learning some of the essentials of the then-current routine in Pierre. That didn’t mean he was going to give me an edge on anything or lose one to me. But he did understand that the public was better served if the reporters covering state government possessed basic tools and knowledge. Plenty of bad-tasting coffee and bull sessions in the press room made for mutual (hopefully) respect and friendship.
I last had the opportunity to work with Terry when I went out to the 1982 session while working for the Rapid City Journal. This time, it was more like old home week. And despite leaving journalism less than 18 months later, I always received the same warm greeting whenever I bumped into Terry over the next decade or more — occasions that were too far and few in between. You couldn’t help but like Terry and enjoy time spent with him. His sense of humor might be the perfect definition of wry. All that was multiplied exponentially if you by chance ended up in the midst of or observing a Woster Brothers “discussion.” In fact, you couldn’t help but learn about certain core values by spending time with the Woster boys, individually or in any combination. I have no doubt my life is richer for that.
The other ending occurred Sunday afternoon when the last two South Dakota Acoustic Christmas concerts brought a 19-year run to an end.
What started as a holiday performance by a group of friends morphed into a statewide holiday tradition that raised more than $1 million over the years for charities and arts organizations. While I’m not a fan of Christmas music, Acoustic Christmas went beyond that. Their music wasn’t the mainstream music you normally think of this time of year. In addition to original compositions, they delved into truly traditional Christmas music, the folk-based songs generated by a variety of cultures over a number of centuries. Even mainstream Christmas songs were rendered with a new feel or arrangement.
Knowing this was the last year, our family was determined to attend one of the final concerts. Sunday’s next to last show was a wonderful performance, as so many have come to expect. The combination of exceptional playing ability, voices and joy on stage reinforced why this became a modern tradition from one end of the state to the other. Everyone also felt just a touch of ownership in seeing such talented South Dakotans bond together to not only make music but to help others in doing it.
Yes, two quintessential examples of South Dakota character are at an end.
There’s journalism — and then there’s life.
Terry Woster’s inscription in my copy of The Woster Brothers’ Brand