Nomination of Theresa Stehly For Spirit of Dakota Award


“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” – Etienne de Grellet, (1773-1855) Quaker Missionary

The above quote could be the philosophy of Theresa Stehly as it describes her life so appropriately.  Perhaps Theresa was born with a “caring” gene as she truly cares for her fellow mankind and when she sees a need she acts upon it. In doing so, she cultivates relationships and lives her faith 24/7. And she shares her talents unconditionally.

Theresa has demonstrated leadership qualities in so many ways. When she has a cause, she researches it, organizes a committee, develops a strategic plan of action, and contacts the proper people.

Due to the leadership of Theresa, the 166,000 residents of Sioux Falls will appreciate the city street employees using snow gates this winter when removing snow from the streets. Theresa began this project in 2007. She had heard that the residents of Bismarck, North Dakota were very happy when their town got snowgates. And Theresa had seen the frustration of elderly neighbors who had spent time and energy clearing the snow from their driveways, only to have a wide ridge of snow blocking the driveway when the snowplows came by and filled it up.  The snow gates prevent snow from being bladed into the driveways; once past the driveway, the gate opens and the accumulated snow is released.  Theresa had numerous conversations with the former Bismarck mayor, who had been in office when the snowgates were implemented, and the Bismarck public works director and then presented the idea to the Sioux Falls city council. While the city council did not initially “buy into” the concept, Theresa continued to promote the issue. Eventually, the city purchased several snowgates and began trying them out in several parts of town. Even though positive feedback was received from the public, the city council did not take action to implement the snowgates.  Theresa organized a work force and she and her volunteers collected 8300 signatures on petitions, which resulted in the snow gates being put on the Sioux Falls ballot. In April, 2014 the voters demonstrated that they wanted snow gates with 76% (23,545) of the votes being “yes.”  Thirty three snow gates have been ordered, at a cost of $250,000, and the city street employees are being trained on their usage.  This winter the Sioux Falls residents will benefit from the project which Theresa Stehly initiated and diligently carried out over a seven year period.

In 2006 the Drake Springs Pool in central Sioux Falls was scheduled for demolition.  The neighborhood pool was going to be eliminated as a new indoor aquatic center was being planned. Theresa was concerned that children in the surrounding low income neighborhoods would have to ride their bikes over two and a half miles for an outdoor pool experience.  She had fond childhood memories of her own summer days spent at a similar pool in her hometown of Mobridge and was sad to learn of the planned closure. When she encountered several moms of young children who shared her viewpoint, Theresa again put her leadership abilities into action and developed a plan. They formed a committee and set about collecting signatures. After 5500 signatures were collected, the issue was placed on the ballot. The voters turned out and overwhelmingly voted to save the Drake Springs pool. After the Drake Springs Pool was rebuilt, Theresa organized and carried out a fundraiser for a beautification project for the Drake Springs Pool. As a result, there are three flower beds there.

Although her present schedule rarely allows her to accept substitute teaching assignments anymore, several years ago Theresa realized that Sioux Falls substitute teachers had not received a pay increase in five years and that the current rate was not competitive with area schools, Theresa once more used her leadership abilities. She collected information from a school of a similar size and shared the information with the superintendent of Sioux Falls Public Schools and met with the school board. A pay increase for substitute  teachers was implemented in 2013.

Theresa is involved in the social, cultural, and educational advancement of others.

As a music major at Northern State University, Theresa began her teaching career in the small, rural town of Eureka, South Dakota as the vocal music instructor. She did not limit her involvement to the classroom however. Theresa’s students performed at community events including the Veteran’s Day program, a community Thanksgiving service, and a Memorial Day program. She shared her music with the church by being a cantor and also by being a soloist in the annual community Christmas concert.  Theresa also performed in a local theatrical production. After moving to Sioux Falls and teaching music for three years in a private school, Theresa became a private piano teacher in Sioux Falls, which she has done for the last 28 years.  She shares her love of music with her students and they put on an annual recital. She encourages their participation in state competitions and in the Piano Guild auditions. Theresa has served as an adjudicator for the Piano Guild, in 16 different cities in four states.  In addition, over the past 22 years she has also judged at a variety of music festivals, American College of Musicians, and the Federation of Music Clubs. She was asked to form choirs in two Sioux Falls churches and has been the director for 27 consecutive years. As an adjunct professor of voice at the University of Sioux Falls for the past 11 years, Theresa helps her students prepare for their recitals. She was selected as a vocal soloist with the South Dakota symphony twice and sang with the South Dakota symphony chorus 17 years.  Theresa readily shares her talent and has been a soloist in over 15 churches and has sung at more weddings and funerals than she can count.  Currently Theresa is serving her second year on the board of directors for Live on Stage, which is the Sioux Falls Community Concerts Association.

In 1990 Theresa joined a mission trip to Jamaica. For two weeks she taught music classes to the Jamaican children and also helped paint a house.  Witnessing stark poverty impacted her view of materialism and helped her to live a simpler life, realizing that one does not need that much to be happy. The experience also helped broaden her appreciation of diversity of cultures.

When Theresa learned of the shortage of driver’s education teachers, she completed the training at Northern State University and taught driver’s education for two summers in Tea, South Dakota.

Theresa has a love for plants and feels like she is in heaven when working in her garden which has over a hundred varieties of plants. She is delighted to help others learn how to develop their own skill in gardening. She has held 14 plant sales in her yard so that others can also appreciate them. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader has featured her in several articles on gardening and KELO TV produced a summer series by filming Theresa in her yard, sharing gardening and planting information.  For 10 years she taught a gardening class through the Sioux Falls community education program. Her yard was twice featured in the Master Gardens tour. Theresa organized and led a gardening bus tour to Milbank area garden centers.

When other Sioux Falls residents had a concern they wanted to address, they contacted Theresa for advice about how to proceed and how to organize petition drives to collect signatures. Theresa was happy to share her knowledge and experience with them.

After an African family with five children, from Liberia, moved next door to Theresa, she took them under her wing and helped acclimate them to life in America. She worked with the children on their reading, invited them into her home for meals, took them to church, took them swimming, and took them shopping to buy clothes.  She arranged for the family to meet with a mentor; a man from their country who had a successful career in Sioux Falls. After Theresa learned that the children were sleeping on the bare floor without any bedding, Theresa made phone calls to locate resources. A church donated handmade quilts and Theresa and her friends donated pillows and pillowcases.

Theresa has a willingness to serve others with vision and purpose without personal gain.

She pursued the snowgate issue so that the residents of the city would benefit. She put energy into the Drake Springs pool for the benefit of the area children who now still have an outdoor pool in their neighborhood. She addressed the substitute teacher pay issue and now all the substitute teachers are paid a rate that is competitive with area schools.

Throughout the years, Theresa has “adopted” a number of elderly or ill friends who did not have family nearby. She has comforted them, brought them flowers from her garden, taken them to doctors’ appointments, and spent time with them while they were dying. She has crocheted over 30 prayer shawls for friends who may be elderly, ill, or hurting.  Theresa has a “card ministry” and sends out a constant stream of cards throughout the year to friends and acquaintances who might be ill, suffering, need encouragement, or just to remind people that she appreciated their efforts or friendships.

As crime rates have increased in Sioux Falls, Theresa organized a Neighborhood Watch program in her neighborhood in 1997. The philosophy is that when one knows who their neighbors are and has a relationship with them, one is more apt to be alert, to protect each other, and to possibly detect and report suspicious activity. Theresa continues to be involved in this and continues to organize and host the annual neighborhood picnic.

Theresa is responsible for Care  Notes, which are placed in a rack and are  available for the taking,  in her church. Care Notes are small four page publications which address a variety of concerns including being a caregiver, dealing with cancer, coping with addictions, surviving a divorce, dealing with death in the family, and a wide variety of other life changing situations.  Theresa personally purchases the publications for the display rack.

Theresa’s compassionate nature also led her to reach out to several inmates on South Dakota’s death row. Wanting them to find hope within their situation, she subscribed to The Daily Word (a religious publication) for them and penned them letters of encouragement.

Recently an elderly friend became ill. Having no relatives, he called upon Theresa to take him to the hospital. She has spent many hours with him at the hospital providing friendship, being his health advocate, and helping him do “end of life” planning.

Theresa indeed has a daring and bold attitude that emulates the true spirit of prairie women.

Just as the pioneer prairie women had to learn how to live and adapt to a new way of life on the prairie, Theresa had to learn how a city works and had to learn the necessary steps to approach her causes.  The prairie women had to deal with the elements of nature and Theresa had to deal with the elements of the establishment. The prairie women had to be strong willed and determined to overcome the many adversaries they faced, and had to have the determination to carry on. Theresa also had to be strong willed and determined. When the city council voted to get rid of the Drake Springs pool, Theresa found others who shared her feelings and learned how to get necessary signatures in order to have the issue put to a vote of the people. When the city council was not initially interested in snow gates, Theresa did not give up.  Once when she attempted to meet with a city official and was told that person was not available, she pulled up a chair, pulled out her knitting, and calmly told the receptionist that she would wait until said individual became available. Interestingly enough, an “opening” in the schedule soon appeared so that Theresa could indeed meet with that person.

 The pioneer prairie women had to be very resourceful as they may have been miles from neighbors and trips to town for supplies were not common occurrences.  So has Theresa had to be very resourceful. She carried out her causes with a very limited budget, without any “corporate” sponsors.   Just as the neighbors of prairie women  were a wonderful resource, and even often assisted in delivering the babies, Theresa has found that her best resource has been the help of friends and individuals who shared her beliefs.

Perseverance was an important trait of the prairie women who had to deal with trials year after year. Dust storms, grasshoppers, wind, hail, tornadoes, drought, floods, and low prices all were discouraging; yet the pioneer prairie women persevered and looked to the future, just as present prairie women do. Fortunately Theresa also had the quality of perseverance. She met with initial resistance from the city council in both the issues of snow gates and the Drake Springs pool, as well as resistance from the school board and administration when approached about pay increases for substitute teachers. The snow gates took seven years from start to finish, when voters voted “yes” in April 2014.Fortunatly, both the prairie women and Theresa had the quality of perseverance.

Just as their faith may have been the most important asset for the prairie women, who were quick to establish churches and schools, faith is most likely the most important asset for Theresa as well. Faith guides Theresa’s actions and her life.  She lives her faith. Even though Theresa has tackled issues which may have been controversial to some, she has always approached her adversaries in a most respectful manner.

Theresa has been actively involved in organizations within her community and has contributed beyond ordinary membership.

Theresa has been a lifelong active member of her church. Not only is she a member, but she is a devoted, committed, contributing member. For 30 years she has served as an accompanist in church. She has been a cantor for 27 years, adult choir director for 27 years, children’s choir director for five years, a Eucharistic minister at Sanford Hospital for five years, and a religious education teacher for two years.    She has been very active in her political party and has been a  delegate to the state convention twice. In 2014 she was an election day superintendent and has served as a precinct chairwoman for several years. Theresa has attended many Sioux Falls city council meetings, has spoken up, and has been on the agenda.  Theresa is a 26 year member of the Sioux Falls Area Music Teachers Association and is currently serving as president of the group. She is also a member of the Sioux Falls Piano Guild and is currently the chairman.

Theresa Stehly exhibits strength of character, courage, and serves as a role model for present and future generations in her community and beloved state of South Dakota.

Her strength of character is evident as she lives her faith 24/7 and as she tackles her projects.  As the choir director she is very visible in her church. As she has carried out her Drake Springs pool, snow gates, and substitute teacher pay increase projects, she became very visible in the community as there were TV, radio, and newspaper interviews and coverage. Theresa has the courage to stand up for her causes, to write letters to the editor, to research the issues , to develop a plan and to implement the plan, all while dealing with people who do not support these issues. Addressing the city council, the school board, and the media takes courage. Standing in front of the congregation when directing a choir takes courage. Dealing with the press takes courage and she is able to speak under pressure and articulate the issues at hand.    She is a wonderful role model as she carries her endeavors out in a most ethical manner, following prayerful consideration and much research. She is respectful of all of God’s people, even those who oppose her. All of her projects have been carried out with integrity. She has served as a role model for others as they have taken on issues of their own concern. As Theresa has organized and led projects, she has modeled working harder, putting in more time, and being an example to her supporters and she is always in the trenches with the workers. She is a wonderful role model for the students that she teaches through piano and voice lessons. She is a wonderful role model for all, showing that a “common” woman from the grass root level, can indeed make a difference while doing so in an ethical manner. The projects that Theresa has taken on will benefit future generations in her community and in her beloved state of South Dakota.

In summary, Theresa is true example of Spirit of Dakota and daily demonstrates those qualities; she uses her leadership skills to make this world a better place, she is dedicated to the advancement of others, she unselfishly serves others and genuinely cares for God’s earth and its people, her bold and daring prairie women qualities along with their trait of perseverance, have allowed her to take on challenging projects.  Her active involvement in organizations has produced results and also has allowed her to develop a network, and her strength of character has served as a role model and has given her the courage to be an advocate for the common people.  Theresa daily lives and demonstrates the Spirit of Dakota.


Okay, I am a little bias for my choice of political advocate of the year, Theresa Stehly. But besides her victories of getting snowgates on the ballot, and the SF substitute teachers a raise (finally) she has inspired others to take up the cause. Spellerberg outdoor pool advocates and the SON folks have successfully taken out petitions this past year, with the quiet assistance of Theresa.  Ms. Stehly is South Dacola’s political advocate winner of 2013.


My political (non) advocate loser of the year, is former secretary of state employee and blogger, Pat Powers. After being forced to resign his position, because he was busted having a conflict of interest with his personal campaign consulting business, Pat continues to be the chief blogging apologist for the most corrupt of corrupt politicians, like Thune and Rounds. Keep it up Pat, I may hand you the award next year to.

Interview with KSFY (lead story)

Informational meeting where councilor Jamison questions the public input procedures (Entenmen and Aguilar decide to bury the issue in an working session meeting).

City Council meeting where Stehly addresses the council on public input and their responsiveness to constituents.

My research is almost complete on whether I found any charter/ordinance violations by council chair Erpenbach concerning limiting public testimony on an agenda item. I hope to post about it later tonight.


Just out of curiosity, I decided to see what each candidate paid for each vote, if you added there expenses with money on hand (assuming they spent it all) this is what each paid.

STEHLY: $3.23 per vote


If you only take what they spent up until April 8th;

STEHLY: $1.73


My biggest disappointment Tuesday night was Theresa losing her bid for Central District. As I mentioned below, the council seat races were not mentioned by the media until the last minute, and that was tragic. Over the past couple of weeks Theresa has relentlessly asked local media to cover the races, not just for her own benefit, but for the benefit of all running.

Will Theresa run again? Probably not. This was something she had already decided. But don’t think this is the last of her advocacy – not for one second. I reassured her last night, that I prefer being an advocate over being a lawmaker, and it is not a bad place to be. Cheryl Rath also told Theresa she makes a great advocate, and I would agree.

I will say to, that I was disappointed in myself. I actually helped design some of Theresa’s campaign postcards and helped write some of her materials. As someone who has worked in graphic design and advertising for over 16 years, I feel I failed her on many levels. I have worked on non-profit fundraising campaigns in the past that have netted big results, so I don’t take this loss lightly.

It was no secret that Michelle also went to Hildebrand for political advise, and paid a lot more for her votes then Theresa did. When Theresa ran against Vernon I believe he paid 2 or 3 times more for votes then she did. What can I say, we got beat by a political giant.

But this fight ain’t over.

UPDATE: I guess that 731 voters in the Central District did not even fill out the council seat, that tells me that a lot of people were uninformed.