|Drue Vitter |
Sen. Vitter dies
HILL CITY -- Drue Vitter's Cajun drawl
will reverberate through the halls of South Dakota government and
Black Hills tourism no more.
The 62-year-old state senator
and former Hill City mayor died Friday.
News of his death spread quickly and was
greeted with a common refrain: "He will be missed."
City Mayor Jim Shaw delivered the news to the luncheon crowd at the
South Dakota Municipal League's annual meeting in Rapid
"I honor him and celebrate his life and contribution to
his community," Shaw said.
Peter Stack, another former Hill
City mayor, captured Vitter's spirit with a less genteel
"He's like a coon-dog. Once he gets something up
a tree, he won't let it go," Stack said, repeating the description
offered by some of Vitter's friends visiting from Louisiana a few
Vitter and his wife, Patsy, moved to Hill City
from New Orleans 16 years ago, and the couple ran businesses
together. When Patsy died of a brain aneurysm in June, the two owned
and operated Patsy Ray's clothing boutique and Lather and Lace in
Gov. Mike Rounds served as a state senator
alongside Vitter for four years and said the two Republicans became
"I enjoyed many conversations with Drue. I've lost a
very close friend," Rounds said. "The loss of Sen. Drue Vitter is a
real blow to South Dakota. He was always looking for a way to make
things better. The people of this state have truly lost a champion
for community development."
Rounds said he could tell when an
issue came up that Vitter was passionate about.
would come up, and his eyes would light up," Rounds said. "He always
had an idea in mind. And it wasn't for Drue. It was for his
Vitter was elected to the state Senate in 1996
and was finishing his final year in office. He was barred by term
limits from seeking re-election.
Vitter's legacy includes a
vibrant Hill City Main Street full of shops that draw tourists and
South Dakota's new $1 million value-added tourism subfund within the
Revolving Economic Development and Initiative loan fund. Vitter
sponsored the bill to create the tourism fund, which can be used to
pay for feasibility studies and marketing programs.
be one of the top tourism legislators. He worked hard on it. Get him
going, and he's hard to slow down," said Stan Anderson, a member of
the state tourism board that for the past year has screened
applications for grants and loans from the tourism sub-fund. "He was
good for tourism, bottom line. If we had everybody like him, we
wouldn't have any trouble passing tourism
Vitter's reputation as a tireless advocate for
South Dakota tourism has its beginnings in his 1992 election as Hill
City mayor. The state was planning to rebuild U.S. Highway 385 so
that it bypassed Main Street, a move that local leaders feared would
relegate the town to has-been status, Stack, who succeeded Vitter as
Hill City mayor, said.
"You wouldn't believe the absolute
fear of the town when that road project was going on. 'The road's
going to bypass us? Would the downtown just fall away?'" Stack said.
"He took a town known to be a bump in the road - a dirt-dusty town -
and turned it into probably one of most talked-about communities in
this part of the country."
Stack, Rounds and former Rapid
City Mayor Ed McLaughlin each recalled Vitter's work during that
highway project that started in 1995.
McLaughlin said he
persuaded Vitter to look for the opportunities in the highway
project instead of fighting it.
"I told him, 'Work to make it
an opportunity for your community,'" McLaughlin said.
did exactly that, according to Stack.
"He had the state
highway department treed. He was on them constantly," Stack said.
"He talked them into things none of us ever dreamed would happen. He
got four side streets done. He got a (federal highway) grant for
those old-fashioned lights downtown. He got them to put sidewalks
where we had never had sidewalks before. That was like instant
cleanup, an instant boost to our city."
Rounds said that
instead of the highway bypass hurting Hill City, Vitter led the way
in finding ways to make it benefit the central Black Hills
"He made that Main Street into a fabulous spot. He was
the driving force in helping make Hill City the vibrant community it
is today," Rounds said.
Vitter reached across the aisle to
get work done, Jim Burg, a Democrat public utilities commissioner,
"He made sure that he knew who you were if you were
somebody else in government. He was interested in new ideas. He
didn't care where they came from," Burg said.
Mayor Dave Munson served with Vitter in the state Senate, and the
two talked at last weekend's Custer State Park Buffalo
"We had a great talk. He looked healthy. He was
disappointed in Louisiana State University football," Munson said.
"He had such a zest for living. He had strong opinions, but once it
was over, he could move on. He was always a
Funeral arrangements are pending with
Behrens-Wilson Funeral Home of Rapid City.
Ross at 394-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org