Courage?? Cuba??

Here is another story of how South Dakota, in the heart of America, can change international outcomes. This is also the story of courage: what courage looks like and what it doesn’t.

Secretary Kerry recently boasted that President Obama showed courage in his unconditional reopening of relations with Cuba, but what the president did wasn’t courageous. True courage can be found in Cuba’s jails cells—jail cells which hold political prisoners who the president completely ignored in his unconditional acceptance of a terrible and vindictive communist regime.

True courage could also be found in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution. On November 16, 1989 university students demonstrated in the streets of Prague to protest the communist government. One of the demonstration’s leaders was Jan Bubeník, a young college student who would later become my friend. On that day in November and over many months that Jan continually confronted the oppressive government of his county. What began as a demonstration of university students with about 60,000 people climaxed with 500,000 people standing face-to-face with equally young Soviet soldiers in the heart of their city. These young people faced each other and without bloodshed or violence or war, communism ended in that courageous country.

Following the revolution a parliamentary government was formed and Jan was its youngest member. In June of 1990 Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections since 1946. Czechoslovakia had been under control of either Germany or the USSR since the Nazis invaded in 1939 and now—this country known for the naturalness of its freedom—was finally free.

After the election Jan moved to the United States to continue his education at University of Colorado in Boulder. It was my privilege to get to know Jan very well when he interned for a company of which I was a director. He later came to South Dakota to view Mount Rushmore shared his hopes for the future and for his life—a life which continues to this day because of a surprising intervention made by a South Dakota United States senator—Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

How did Tom Daschle come to intervene on behalf of a revolutionary and former parliamentarian from the Czech Republic? You could call it a coincidence, but as the saying goes, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

My late wife’s, Ita, niece is a physician’s assistant in Los Angeles. In 1997 or 1998 she was traveling to Slovakia to take part in research and planned to stop in Prague on her way (by this time Czechoslovakia had peacefully separated into two sovereign nations: the Czech Republic and Slovakia). I gave her Jan’s name and they had a very pleasant visit and discussion before she went on to Slovakia.

President Bush was elected in November of 2000 and shortly afterwards I received a call from Jan telling me that he was coming for the inauguration and asking if I also planned to attend. He said that he was coming with a college, Ivan Pilip, and hoped to see me. This was after my first election to the legislature, so the inaugural was impossible, and I gave Jan my regrets.

In the second or third week of my first legislative session there was an email from Ita’s niece saying that she had received an email from a doctor in Slovakia informing her that Jan was in serious trouble in Cuba. While I knew that Jan had planned to stop in Cuba to visit with some “dissidents” on his way to Washington, I knew nothing of any trouble.

Concerned, I called Florida state legislator Mario Diaz-Balart (now a member of congress for Florida), whose parents had fled Cuba. I gave his office Jan’s name and asked if they knew anything about a couple of Czechs having a problem in Cuba. I received a call back from Mario’s staff informing me that Jan and Ivan had been arrested, but was assured that they were still alive. I asked, “Still alive?” They replied, “Yes, while it’s unusual as they have been charged with serious crimes against the government because they were meeting with dissidents.” She told me that was rather unusual because while other foreigners have these meetings and are criticized or deported, she’d never heard of anything quite as drastic as they were charging Jan and his friend—who had been in the parliament with Jan and was the former deputy interior minister of the Czech Republic.

Immediately, I called Tom Daschle’s office in Washington to tell them about Jan’s situation and who he was—that he wasn’t an agitator and that he was someone who believed in freedom and that I could vouch for him as I knew him well. It happened that Tom wasn’t available as he was on his way to South Dakota to sign the Missouri River Compact on Water in Pierre. However, because Tom’s staff knew that I was a responsible person who wouldn’t have called if it weren’t serious, they immediately contacted the U.S. Interests Section in Havana on Jan and Ivan’s behalf. They told them to notify the Cuban government that the majority leader was very concerned about the arrest of the two former parliamentarians from Czechoslovakia and personally wanted to be assured that they would not be harmed and would be allowed to proceed on their way to Washington.

At the compact signing in Pierre, my seat was in the front row with Speaker Pro Tem Matt Michaels and immediately adjacent to the table were Tom Daschle and Governor Janklow would be seated. It was easy for me to give Tom a note briefly explaining who Jan was, my concern, and the information that we had received.

As it happened, Tom had recently visited Cuba and met with Castro towards finding a way to help improve relations between their two countries. After receiving my note, Tom called and notified Castro that under no circumstances would he consider any assistance to Cuba if anything happened to the two former parliamentarians.

The next day Jan and Ivan were hustled on a plane to Europe.

What do the end of communism in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the detainment of two Czech revolutionaries, and current opening of relations with Cuba have in common?

As our president leads us down this road with Cuba, let’s recognize that the Castro brothers have a long memory. Longer, it seems, than ours and certainly more vengeful.

Thank you for your vote.

The power of open communication in the social media has certainly become clear to me. Over the couple of last weeks a small group of people with a small budget of only $7,000 and, separately, this blog utilizing Facebook used to facts to soundly defeated a $75,000 campaign.

Tuesday, Rapid City voted down a plan that wasn’t right for our community. Now, it is time to look forward and work together to begin the process towards a Civic Center plan that does fit us.

Where do we go from here?

  1. Rapid City should immediately notify the Department of Justice of the city’s intent to seek modifications to the agreement that was negotiated with the DOJ. The first order of business is to eliminate the thirty month time frame, which is allowed under item #21 of the agreement.
  2. Rapid City should immediately, before the end of the month, employ TSP, the A & E firm which previously evaluated and reported the needs of the Civic Center, to develop plans and specifications to address the handicapped access concerns and other critical needs. The plans should be completed by May 15, 2015 and include a timeline to address the accessibility concerns in a timely manner while developing a phased  construction plan that would allow for maximum utilization of the arena during the construction period.  The easy fixes like addressing the need for additional handicap parking should be addressed immediately.
  3. The plans for the project should include what is known as “add alternates” to allow for maximum flexibility and economy. Add alternates are items which could be to be priced during the bidding phase for improvements and upgrades to the existing facility which are suggested by TSP, but above what is absolutely necessary for handicapped access.
  4. These plans should then be submitted for competitive bid by June 15, 2015.
  5. Once the bids are received, the ad alternates should be accepted in such a manner to restrict the total expenditure to less than $45 million.
  6. Public meetings should also be held immediately, as TSP commences their work, by the city in conjunction with the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. These meetings will provide an opportunity for citizens with disabilities to discuss problems they have experienced while accessing the arena and/or Civic Center as a whole. The election caught the attention of the people of Rapid City and we now have the opportunity to engage people who were not previously reached.
  7. At the same time, individuals are welcome to contact this blog and share their experiences and difficulties while attending events at the Civic Center, or difficulties which may have kept them from attending any events.

What I’ve learned and want you to know

Here is what I’ve learned about the Civic Center expansion—and it has convinced me that the proposed plan isn’t right for our community. I think that you deserve to know this too.

The Civic Center won’t cost less than $180 million, but it should.

  • Since there was no bidding procedure, but instead a selection process for a Construction Manager at Risk, the Civic Center won’t cost any less than $180 million, but it should.
  • There are no specifications, no detailed drawings of the proposed expansion—there is just a contractual agreement that allows the Contractor at Risk to be an integral part of the design process.
  • What incentive does the Construction Manager at Risk have to complete the expansion for less than the $180 million estimate? As a heavy contractor, if asked for the cost for a mile of road in some location, I’d obviously set a maximum amount.
  • Even if the proposed expansion is approved, $180 million price tag is excessive and would need to be controlled through the design.

It’s too expensive and we are borrowing to capacity, and beyond.

  • We had to do some fancy bookkeeping to prove to the bank that our city can afford the proposed, colossal expansion—we had to combine The Vision Fund and the Capital Improvement Project Fund (CIP Fund).
  • The city’s own Finance Officer was on KOTA as saying this was necessary to get financing: “Sumption says the accounts were combined in order to show lenders that the city has enough revenue to pay off any debt obligation that would be incurred from the expansion.”
  • The Vision Fund is funded by a half-cent sales tax and the CIP Fund is funded by another half-cent sales tax.

We will be fully committing the Vision Fund.

  • Making the bond payment for the proposed expansion will require all or the majority of the Vision fund for years.
  • In recent years, the Vision Fund has provided funding for many projects in our community that you will likely recognize (click here to see the full list):
    • Canyon Lake dam reconstruction
    • Airport terminal expansion
    • Horace Mann Pool
    • Youth & Family Services renovation
    • Main Street Square
    • Skyline Drive preservation
    • Public Safety Building
    • Library remodel and expansion
    • Highway 16 Fire Station #6
  • These are representative of the types of projects that will have to be put off, killed entirely, or have alternative funding identified while Civic Center expansion consumes all the Vision Funds.

We are gambling the CIP Fund.

  • By combining the Vision Fund and the CIP Fund as a mechanism to prove to bankers that we can afford the proposed expansion, we are putting the CIP Fund into the betting pot.
  • Projects funded by CIP Fund may not be as quickly identifiable as a new Fire Station on Highway 16, but they are still important and include vital maintenance and repairs (click here to see the 2011-2016 CIP Plan):
    • Sanitary sewer extensions
    • Utilities
    • Water reservoir maintenance
    • Street drainage reconstruction

We are being given an exaggerated cost estimate to address the ADA violations.

  • Proponents of the expansion have argued that it would cost at least $70 million (and sometimes even more) to remodel the arena for ADA.
  • The truth is that the estimated $35 million ADA cost is being combined with the estimated $35 million cost to update and upgrade the Barrett Arena.
  • Click here to see the actual estimated cost for ADA repairs on the Opinion of Probable Construction Cost document (yellow highlights were added by this blog). The document lists two estimates: the lower at $32,744,121 and the higher at $34,437,602.
  • Before “contingencies” are added, the lower estimate is barely over $23 million—and a closer look at the basis for the $23 million estimate reveals that even that number seems exaggerated.
  • An example: Some of the items—including one of the largest, Civil / Utilities (Allowance) at $500,000—list “LS,” for lump sum, as the “Unit”. This means that these items have been merely estimated. As a contractor, we always considered those to be SWAGS (super wild ass guesses).

$70 million includes more than just needed repairs—it includes improvements.

  • We are being told that it will cost $70 million for ADA, Life Safety, Fire Marshal, and Building Code purposes, but our $70 million would get us more than just the needed repairs.
  • Click here to look at the estimate and you will see that it also includes sound system upgrades, a kitchen remodel and expanded storage, stage equipment, sport flooring, and a stage and back stage addition.
  • The $70 million would get us an updated, refreshed arena, and with expanded storage and kitchen areas.

We are being given an exaggerated timeline.

  • We have also been told that remodeling the Barnett Arena may take five years and that we could lose—forever—events that would, supposedly, have to relocate. That is ridiculous.
  • Five years to complete the repairs listed in Attachment A of the settlement? No. Look for yourself.

We can phase the project, without shutting down the arena for five years.

  • We have been told that we will have to shut down the area for five years, but the report from TSP says that the project could be phased. 
  • There is no reason why the parts of the construction process that might close the arena cannot be carried out in a carefully phased manner during periods that the arena is not in use or is least in demand.
  • We remodeled our airport without shutting it down for five years, surely we can find a way to make the required changes with minimal impact on events.

 We will have insufficient parking, and won’t gain as many spaces as claimed.

  • Literature in support of the proposed expansion states that parking will increase from the current 4,250 parking spaces to 6,000 spaces (click here to view)—that is incorrect.
  • In reality, the plan we are voting on would only have net gain of 300 to 500 parking spaces, depending on who you ask.
  • Though will gain a parking ramp with 1,000 (1,000 fewer than assumed in the Economic Impact Study, see page 12), but we will also lose parking spaces due to the expansion.

We will have pay for parking.

  • 2,000 of parking spaces controlled by the Civic Center will become paid parking—even the surface spaces. 
  • The fee to park will range from $3 to $5.
  • The AECOM report Feasibility Study for the Proposed Blue Concept at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, referred to as the Business Plan by proponents, lays out the plan for paid parking on pages 78 and 79. 
  • Events in the bandshell will have free parking—except for Hills Alive.
  • All attendees of the Black Hills Stock Show and the Lakota Nations Invitational will also have to pay for parking. Again, look for your self on page 78 and 79 of what proponents of the expansion refer to as the Business Plan.

Some of those parking spaces will be reserved for VIPs.

  • The Business Plan calls for 250 club seats in the new arena (and that 90 percent are fold per year at $500 each—not including the cost of tickets) that would include VIP parking.
  • We have barely made a net gain in parking spaces, and now some of those are going to be reserved for club seating—not available to the general public.

Can Rapid City support two more sports teams?

  • The Business Plan assumes that the new arena will host two new minor-league franchises: a NBA D-League team and a football or soccer franchise, just look on page 66. 
  • How many indoor football teams have we seen come and go in Rapid City? How can put ourselves in a position to rely on an indoor football team and a NBA D-League team to be successful for the proposed expansion to be financially viable?

We can vote no and still care about accessibility for people with disabilities.

  • Some are inferring that a vote against the proposed expansion is a vote against accessibility for people with disabilities—that is not the case. We can address the ADA violations without spending $180 million dollars on a new arena.
  • The DOJ recently featured a story about two individuals with disabilities, Connie Whitley and Jim Nelson, and the challenges they experienced when attending a banquet in a room at the Civic Center.
  • The challenges listed in the DOJ article include difficulty locating a parking spot, the first parking spot located not having the required accessible aisle, difficulty entering the building though the double doors at a side entrance, and entering the room where the banquet was taking place.
  • Yes! Let’s remove accessibility barriers at the Civic Center for Connie and Jim and others with disabilities. We should do that, we can do that, we will do that—and we can do it with a plan that we can also afford.
  • Notably, the DOJ article does not mention the arena at all. What is does state is that the Civic Center parking areas coming into compliance as one of the “hallmarks” of our settlement with them.
  • At no point did the DOJ tell us to build a new arena to address ADA violations.

We can vote no and still address the ADA violations.

  • The proposed plan isn’t our only hope to address ADA violations. We can address the ADA, Life Safety, Fire Marshal, and Building Code issues for $70 million—or likely less—and we could even expand on a scale that we can afford. We should be able to have that conversation.

There are too many unanswered questions.

  • What happens if the sales projections are not met?
  • What happens if a large emergency should come along while we have taxed our debt-paying capacity to the max?
  • What happens when we need another fire station? (Remember when a consultant recommended adding funding for two new fire stations be included as part of Civic Center funding package? Has the need for two fire stations disappeared, or is our ability to pay for them what is disappearing? Will we even be able to get a loan for fire stations when we have already borrowed to the max? How will we pay for them when our Vision Funds are committed for years to come?)
  • What other investments were considered, if any, that might better serve the citizens and tax payers of Rapid City?

How did we get to this point anyway—why do we have an enforcement agency breathing down our necks?

  • We want to ensure that our Civic Center—all of it, not just the arena—is accessible to people with disabilities. How did we get to the point where we have a clock ticking because of a settlement with the DOJ? You can go online and see the Mayor admitting that he initiated the telephone call to the US Attorney. Click here to see for yourself, the comments start 54:50 into the video and at 1:08 the Mayor again references his call to the DOJ local Civil Rights Office.
  • Rather than build consensus around a plan, our Mayor called an enforcement agency on us and now, with a deadline looming, we are being pressured to accept a plan that just happens to be waiting.

We are being pushed to approve the proposed plan because of ADA, but the you consider the plan the less it to do with ADA. We don’t have to be robbed of our opportunity to find a plan that fits our community’s needs and our city’s wallet. Let’s vote NO to a plan that it too big and costs too much. Then let’s pull together as a community and work together and build agreement around a plan that does fit our needs and that we can afford without committing all of our Vision Fund and gambling CIP Fund.

Falsehoods and misrepresentations—why? Indeed, WHY?

Why are we having an election to consider a nonexistent ADA complaint, about which our Mayor Sam Kooiker lied?  In fact, he invited the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make a “courtesy inspection,” then he “negotiated” an agreement—that has not to this date been signed by the DOJ.  There is NO agreement in existence, NONE.  You can go online, to see the Mayor admitting that he initiated the telephone call to the US Attorney, then tries to hide the truth behind a flood of words. Click here to see for yourself, the comments start 54:50 into the video and at 1:08 the Mayor again references his call to the DOJ local Civil Rights Office.

Why are we rushing to comply with a non-existing contract which the supporters of the Civic Center expansion are using along with exaggerated numbers and supposed time frames as a scare tactic to generate votes for a new arena? While saying they are propagating messages to debunk misconceptions about the proposed expansion, actually they are spreading their own misleading misinformation.

Let’s look at the dire warnings about the Barnett Arena, beginning with the estimated cost. Proponents of the expansion have argued that it would cost at least $70 million (and sometimes even more) to remodel the arena for ADA, but the truth is that they are combining an estimated $35 million ADA cost with the estimated $35 million cost to update and upgrade the Barrett Arena to exaggerate the cost. You can see the actual estimated cost for ADA repairs on the Opinion of Probable Construction Cost document (yellow highlights were added by this blog). The document lists two estimates: the lower at $32,744,121 and the higher at $34,437,602. Before some ridiculous “contingencies” the lower estimate is barely over $23 million—and a closer look at the basis for the $23 million estimate reveals that even that number seems exaggerated.

For example, some of the items list “LS,” for lump sum, as the “Unit”—including one of the largest, Civil / Utilities (Allowance) at $500,000. This means that these items have been merely estimated. As a contractor, we always considered those to be SWAGS (super wild ass guesses).

We get to the $70 million price point when we add the estimated “order of magnitude” SWAGS of $30,640,659 for general repairs and updates (click here to see the estimate), far beyond what is necessary to address the ADA violations. Look at the estimate and you will see that it includes sound system upgrades, a kitchen remodel and expanded storage, stage equipment, sport flooring, and a stage and back stage addition. The $70 million would get us a brand new arena, for uses which might or might not be in our citizen’s best interest.

The next alarm is the claim that if we don’t approve the plan as presented to us, we won’t have sufficient time to complete the repairs required by the DOJ settlement—a settlement that has not to this date been signed by the DOJ.  Even if the Mayor’s “deal” did exist, look for yourself at the required actions listed in “Attachment A” of the supposed DOJ settlement.

These actions can easily be completed with a separate design and bid contract within the next twelve months. They must be completed by the deadline whether we build a new arena or not—building another arena during that timeframe just complicates the matter.

We have also been told that remodeling the Barnett Arena may take five years and that we could lose—forever—the events that would, supposedly, have to relocate. That is ridiculous.

First, the timeframe: Five years to complete the repairs listed in Attachment A of the unsigned settlement? No.

Second, there is no reason why the parts of the construction process that might close the arena cannot be carried out in a carefully phased manner during periods that the arena is not in use or is least in demand. We remodeled our airport without shutting it down for five years, surely we can find a way to make the required changes with minimal impact on events.  City’s own TSP report says you can do in phases.

Phasing Civic Center renovation

In other words the Kooiker administration has started us on a path to spend $180 million in taxpayer dollars and lied about having ratted the city out to the feds to get the ball rolling. There was no formal federal action until the Mayor caused it. Outrageous.

We have gone from a nonexistent ADA complaint costing $32,744,121, to a long story that since we’re at it we ought to spend another $150 million to build some seats we might not ever be able to fill.

Time to stop and regroup. We can create a plan to make the repairs outlined in a suggested DOJ settlement for minimal cost, phased in a way to have little or no impact, in a swift manner—there is no reason to drag it out.

Then, separately, let’s have a discussion about a new plan that will address the Civic Center’s legitimate needs—one that we can afford. We need a public discussion that balances the Civic Center plan against other possible good uses for that kind of money over the next 30 years.

I am very troubled by what is happening, dishonesty is apparent. Why? Who gains?  Who is paying the cost of the propaganda and publications of the “vote yes” effort?

For a long time I really didn’t fully appreciate what it meant to need handicapped access—while I understood that it was important I had never had to use it. Then I did—for nearly a year. Months of a rented wheel chair, walking with a walker, or on crutches, or with a cane have changed my view. Months of being unable to stand or navigate difficult steps, or even make turns in a hallway, enhanced my recognition of the need for an early solution to accessibility problems at the Civic Center.

This blog would appreciate hearing from those of you who have had difficulty accessing the arena. Please tell us about your experiences. What has inconvenienced you most? What do you think should be addressed first? If this is really about ADA, let’s keep it about ADA and take care of the needs of the people of this community first—and swiftly. We can complete the other repairs in the needed time frame, but what do you think needs to be done first? What is holding you back from utilizing and enjoying our Civic Center?

Civic Center—No?!

Having served the board of the Rapid City Chamber for seven years and having been its chairman, and with great respect for that board’s process and careful decisions, I regret that I must recommend a vote against the Civic Center expansion.

Having served on Civic Center board for six years and having served as its chairman, the need for improvements at the Civic Center is clear to me, but this is not the right plan and the current City Hall Administration does not inspire confidence in its ability to do a $180 million project competently.  After decades of success in the contracting and development business, I know how to tell.

The Civic Center expansion project should not be undertaken until there is a new mayor in Rapid City. We must have a mayor who is capable of management, rather than one whose incapable management has caused many department heads to resign, including Brian Maliske, the talented and trustworthy long-time manager of the Civic Center.

While his successor may prove to be competent, he certainly does not yet have the in-depth knowledge of Rapid City, its people, and our marketplace.  I also hope that the new manager can bring Brian’s creativity and business know-how to the task, but that, too, is at this moment an unknown, and $180 million is too much to spend to find out the hard way.

It seems to me that all of the options have not been fully evaluated.  To propose the most expensive public project in the city’s history, one that would consume all of the half-cent sales tax that has been so important in the Vision Fund, is too much of a gamble.  What happens if the sales projections are not met?  What happens if a large emergency should come along while we have taxed our debt-paying capacity to the max?  What other investments were considered, if any, that might better serve the citizens and tax payers of Rapid City?

I admit to being protective about that Vision Fund.  It was made possible by creative leadership through a program initiated by my friend, the late Governor Bill Janklow.

To win public confidence on an undertaking of this size, we need a new Mayor, one who is not constantly in conflict with the council, one who is willing to show true leadership.   It’s not very inspiring to have seen our current Mayor say, in effect, “Well, here’s my plan, but I’m not really all that sure of it, so y’all go vote.”

To make a project of this magnitude successful, we need a leader who expresses confidence that the plan he proposes is the best one, he is certain it is so, and he is devoted to making it work.  The current Mayor’s priority seems to be a different one: covering his political rear end by keeping a foot firmly planted on both sides of the fence.  Alas, this isn’t the first such instance of his weak leadership, only the largest.

It’s not the kind of leadership required for an undertaking like this.

I plan to vote no and urge my friends to do the same, but that will not be the end of it.  We need a new Mayor and a new plan to address the Civic Center’s legitimate needs, a plan we can afford, and one that is not betting the farm on finding two new professional sports teams, attracting concerts that draw 10% of the area’s population at $150 per ticket, and hoping that thousands of parking spots will magically appear when needed.

It’s too big, it costs too much, and we shouldn’t spend that kind of money without first asking what other ideas and projects will have to be killed or delayed that might have been better for our economy, our future, and the quality of life here.

I should add that I have personal and respectful friendship with Mayor Kooiker, but at the same time I can see that he lacks the management skill required for such a large and complex undertaking.   It’s not pleasant, nor is it the first time I’ve had to tell a friend that he’s not the best one for the job at hand, but that’s always the best thing to do.

More US senators than rabbis?

You may have read the recent AP article which was published widely—including in the Rapid City Journal—titled “South Dakota Jewish community small, tight-knit” (if not, you can read it here). The article tells how South Dakota has the smallest Jewish community in the United States—which continues to dwindle—and is the only state without a permanent rabbi. (People are amused when we say that we have two more United States senators than we have rabbis.)

The Synagogue of the Hills has received emails and calls from all over the United States and from foreign countries—including Israel and Peru—and we want to leverage the attention of the many people who are thinking about us and who want to know more.

There has long been a desire to have a permanent rabbi at The Synagogue of the Hills and the article has encouraged a plan (a campaign, if you will) to increase the Jewish population in the Black Hills by twenty-five families in the next two years. Rapid City needs a “critical” mass of Jewish families in order to enhance the vitality of the synagogue and, perhaps, attract a permanent rabbi—I am asking for your help to make that happen.

We live in the Black Hills and we know what a wonderful ambiance, quality of life, and opportunities this area has to offer. Do you know Jewish families who would love living in the Black Hills and who would be a great addition to our community? A family who would enjoy driving from place to place and never hearing a horn honked—unless someone is getting their friend’s attention to wave at them. Does someone in your family or one of your friends know such a family? Will you share the idea of bringing twenty-five Jewish families to the Black Hills with them? Do you have ideas that could make this campaign successful? If so, please share.

A mysterious box in the driveway

All of my recent blogs about my family’s military history brought to mind a fun story about a mysterious box I once found in my driveway.

One August evening in 1995 I came home and was surprised to find an old wooden box in my driveway. Though there was some writing on the outside about the 528th Engineers, I couldn’t see a name and there was no explanation as to why it was there. A call to the National Guard revealed that there had never been South Dakota Guard unit with the number 528. My next call was to the police who came as did airmen from Ellsworth trained in demolition—should the box present a threat. At the very last minute, rereading of the inscriptions by flashlight as it was dark out by this time, I saw the term “state room” and the name “Lt. M.E. Adelstein” stenciled in orange and realized the old wooden box was my father’s footlocker from World War I.

Despite a big story in the Journal (1995-09-14 army locker mysteriously appears), we never learned who had returned the footlocker to my family or where it had been found. While the footlocker was empty, it brought back memories of my father and I am grateful to have it as a keepsake.


Exploring three generations of military service–the third generation

In this the last story about three generations of Adelsteins in the military, today I’ll tell the story of a hospital named for a Jewish general and the story of Morris’s grandson.

In the late 1940s there was a very special kind of discrimination against Jewish doctors. Denver, which was still a relatively small town at the time, had a quota—not to be exceeded—of Jewish doctors that were allowed on staff at each hospital. A number of Jewish men really resented this limit and decided that Denver should have a hospital built by contributions from the Jewish community. A national fundraising campaign was initiated and successfully raised the funds needed to build the hospital. The hospital was named General Rose Memorial Hospital in honor of Major General Maurice Rose, the highest ranking Jewish officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. (Click here if you would like to learn more about Major General Maurice Rose.)

A point was made by recognizing Major General Maurice Rose—one of the very few Jewish officers.

Years later, I would sit in the father’s waiting room at the General Rose Memorial Hospital awaiting the arrival of my first child with my father-in-law, Leo Korn, who escaped from Poland after the start of the Holocaust. We heard the baby’s first cry at midnight between November 23rd and November 24th of 1954. As the baby cried, the “The Star-Spangled Banner” sounded on the waiting room’s TV. A prophetic sound for this tiny baby? Perhaps.

Our series of stories, which began with Morris Adelstein’s battle field commission, comes full circle sixty years later with the commissioning of Morris Adelstein’s grandson at West Point. This grandson proved the promise of the United States and retired as a Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel.

(Click here for more about the history the General Rose Memorial Hospital)

Exploring three generations of military service–the second generation

My military career began in 1949 when, with two fraternity brothers, I enlisted in the Colorado Air National Guard while attending the University of Colorado in Boulder. We joined for three reasons—and probably in this order: (1) we could use the extra cash, (2) we were able to put on our uniforms and go to Buckley Field in Denver and fly for free wherever in the United States aircrafts were flying—and that was almost everywhere, and (3) we were patriotic and thought that it would be a wonderful experience. At some point I was asked how I would feel about being a radar operator. I responded that I thought it seemed pretty challenging and soon found myself assigned to the 557th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. My capabilities were not there, I too easily confused blips with lights and so on, so my assignment became squadron clerk.

The Korean War began on Sunday, June 25, 1950 and my squadron was activated shortly after we returned from summer camp. Being a private first class wasn’t my cup of tea, and when a notice crossed my company clerk’s desk I was presented with an alternative. It was a regulation that allowed anyone to separate from the Air Force and return to school if they were (1) already accepted for advanced ROTC—which I had been enrolled in for two years, (2) studying engineering or premed, and (3) willing to serve for three years, rather than the usual two years. By 3:00 p.m. I was on my way home.


In 1952, after completing a miserable basic, a commission in the Corps of Engineers was mine. I went on active duty in 1955 and, with about forty-two other brand new “shave tails,” was assigned to the 116th Engineer Group in Fort Lewis, Washington.

As a platoon leader of B Company of the 109th Engineer Battalion, I quickly learned how to listen to sergeants who told me what to do. Also, there was the opportunity to build my first—and only—bridge.

Bridge 2Bridge 3 Bridge 1

My next assignment, as a new First Lieutenant, was as Executive Officer of the 157th Light Equipment Company and subsequently company commander—my experience serving as CO was one of the most important of my life and has been a guide for my life since. As a twenty-four-year-old engineer I was trusted with expensive pieces of construction equipment (worth $53.2M in today’s dollars), outstanding NCOs, and soldiers who wanted to learn a skill they could use for the rest of their lives.

Leadership meant accomplishing a job in a way that satisfies the real desires and needs of the people who are doing the day-to-day work—so the 157th ran as a business.

The men knew that if they were going to keep their equipment running, it had to be taken care of—because when it was in the shop then they did soldiering duties like marching and cleaning the barracks. Also, it became abundantly clear that my equipment could do any job needed on Fort Lewis. Any budding entrepreneur knew how to leverage this for his men. For example, when visiting “ration breakdown” I asked the CO if he hated loading mess trucks in the mud when it rained—which it almost always did—and he said, “Of course! What can I do about it Lieutenant?” After explaining to him that the 157th had a rock crusher, dump trucks, front end loaders, and motor graters that could make him the finest parking lot on the post, the bright American officer asked, “What do I have to do?”

The CO provided the four thousand soldiers on the post with rations—each company receiving a set number of pounds of beef. Of that beef, the amount of hamburger, steak, and tenderloin each company received might vary—some companies receiving more steak and tenderloin and less hamburger. Well, the soldiers of the 157th deserve steak, prime rib, and tenderloin. An agreement was quickly struck and we shook hands. He had a deal and we had the company mess in the 116th. There were tasks like this to be done all over the post.

The end of my three years approached and I was asked by my colonel to volunteer to go before a military board for appointment to the regular Army, instead of the reserve Army. At the time the Corps of Engineers was involved in a reduction of force, returning the many soldiers who had become officers during WWII and the Korean War back to their NCO permanent rank. The competition was tuff for a Corps of Engineers Reserve Commission. Just after returning to Rapid City a certified letter arrived saying that I had been chosen for a regular commission in the Corps of Engineers with a date of rank the same as those who graduated from West Point in 1952. It was clear that my wife would absolutely not be happy with a military life—our eldest son had been born by this time—so we decided to stay in Rapid City and explore all the opportunities that the city and Northwestern Engineering had to offer.

Remembering Veterans Day when it was still called Armistice Day

Let me share a story with you about three generations of military service and the changes experienced from each generation to the next—from a battlefield commission during World War I (which might not have happened had the general awarding the commission known that my father was Jewish) to a West Point graduation (when being Jewish was not an obstacle to earning a commission).

In 1918, the armistice ending World War I began on November 11th at 11:00 a.m. and, one year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the first commemoration.

Armistice Day was always a very special holiday in the Black Hills and my father, Morris, who had won a battle field commission in World War I—thus making him a genuine “local hero”—usually made three speeches, each with a different tone.

The first speech was in the Rapid City Auditorium (located where the Dahl now stands) and, from a child’s point of view, it seemed similar to many other gatherings I had observed. It was the usual public address at the appropriate public time. The second speech was at a celebration in the Kadoka high school gym and somehow seemed a little more personal. This speech invited public participation which occurred with occasional applause and laughter. The last speech was in a little country church late in the afternoon (perhaps around 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m.) and was the most different from the others. There was only enough room inside the church for the adults, so we children would wait outside. Through the closed door we would hear, and were impressed by, the occasional loud noise of everyone inside stamping their feet on the floor—this gave me the idea that it was probably the best speech of the day.

In his speeches my father would share his experiences serving during World War I, including how he was recommended for a field commission. During the St. Mihiel offensive in Germany all of his company’s officers were killed and my father assumed command. He rallied the men and the company built a bridge to transport waiting ambulances filled with wounded men to the rear lines—all while under heavy German fire. A general overlooking the battlefield saw the company building the bridge and said, “Make that sergeant a lieutenant.”

While the actions of my father and his company were described as heroic, he told me that it was not a sign of any real bravery, because what bothered him more than the German bullets were the screams of the wounded soldiers who would have been stranded without the bridge.

On November 11, 1918, at 11:00 am the armistice ending World War I began and, eventually, the troops returned home. On the ship taking him back to the United States a regular Army officer asked my father, “Well Lieutenant, how does it feel to be an officer?” He replied, “It’s just great, really wonderful.” The regular asked him what made it that way for him and he answered, “Having a stateroom.” The regular said, “Well that’s not very professional.” My father’s reply: “That’s because you did not come over in the hold.”

The field commission made my father one of a small minority of Jewish men who became officers at that time. In fact, the German Army had more Jewish officers, proportionally, than the United States Army. Would Morris Adelstein have been recommended for a field commission had the general known that his last name was Adelstein? We’ll never know, but years later his grandson would be accepted to and graduate from West Point with the name Adelstein.