Tourism group honors four for contributions
by Journal Staff
RAPID CITY – The Black Hills, Badlands & Lakes Association presented four awards at its recent annual meeting and luncheon. The group inducted three people into the Black Hills Tourism Pioneers Hall of Fame. It also honored the Black Hills’ most recognized marathon man.
The inductees are photographer Bill Groethe of Rapid City and explorers Jan Conn and Herb Conn, Custer. Their names will be added to a plaque at the Black Hills Visitor Information Center, which cites other “Pioneers” who have made outstanding contributions to the development of tourism in western South Dakota and whose visions and labors have helped shape the destiny of South Dakota’s visitor industry.
Jerry Dunn, organizer of the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon, was the winner of the Black Hills, Badlands & Lakes Association’s 2007 Special Achievement Award. The award is given annually to recognize the efforts and achievements made in the tourism industry.
Here are their biographies:
Bill Groethe bought his first camera and started taking pictures at the age of 7, when other children his age were playing marbles.
He now has more than 10,000 images of the Black Hills and Badlands to his credit, many of which have been published in several books and national publications. His work hangs in museums and galleries throughout the United States.
Groethe apprenticed at the age of 12 at Bell Studio under the tutelage of well-known photographer Burt Bell. He was later hired full time and began taking professional photographs at the age of 16. “That’s been my whole life. That’s all I’ve done is photography,” the 83-year-old said.
His collection, dating back to 1927, spans more than 70 years and documents the carving at Mount Rushmore. Groethe hung precariously from George Washington’s face to photograph Gutzon Borglum as he carved Abe Lincoln’s likeness. He was there when Korczak Ziolkowski arrived in the Black Hills to carve a mountain, and Grothe recorded the first blasts at Crazy Horse. He is the only person to capture the last nine survivors of the Battle of the Little Bighorn on film in 1948.
Groethe and his wife, Alice, have been in the wholesale and retail photo-finishing business since 1945. They own and operate First Photo, 1839 West Main, in Rapid City.
Herb and Jan Conn have logged countless rock-climbing journeys and cave explorations over the years, and their names have been associated with the two sports ever since.
The couple first arrived in South Dakota in 1946 from the East Coast while on a cross-country rock-climbing road trip. They fell in love with the Black Hills and were drawn to the challenge of the Needles’ cathedral spires.
As they discovered more and more climbs, they invited friends from back East to join them, which led to an influx of climbers as word spread about the climbing opportunities here. Some say they started the rock-climbing craze in the Black Hills.
By 1961, they had discovered and named more than 200 climbing routes. Jan Conn is the first woman ever to free-climb Devils Tower.
Jerry Dunn was not at the meeting to accept his award. He was promoting his events and the Black Hills at the Marine Corps Marathon Expo in Washington, D.C.
When he planned the first Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon in 2002, he was thrilled to get 70 runners. Now, it has 1,700 participants. His goal is 4,000 runners.
According to figures from state officials, his races have contributed $5.5 million to the state’s economy since 2002.
The marathon is now the largest non-school-related running event in South Dakota.
Despite the success of the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon and his new 100-mile Lean Horse Ultra Marathon in Hot Springs, Dunn credits the volunteers, business sponsors, chambers and participants for the success of the events.
“I feel like I was handed the opportunity, and it was meant to be,”the 61-year-old Spearfish man said. “I knew the industry and was able to provide runners what they wanted, plus a little more. I was able to offer them one of most beautiful places in the world to run: on the Mickelson Trail.”