Ag Pride 2023 | Finishing Greg’s Legacy: The Barn Out West
Greg Smeenk always said, “Family comes first.” In the wake of his recent passing, his wife and three children are committed to finishing the last project Smeenk was working on: a wedding venue. Fittingly, the Smeenk family will provide a service which is dedicated to the beginning of families.
The Barn Out West is on the Smeenk ranch eight miles west of Belle Fourche, bordered by hills and pine trees with relative seclusion. The initial idea was brought up by Greg’s son, Jed, as a way to diversify their income. Soon, the whole family was on board. “All of our kids are of marrying age,” says Sherry, Greg’s widow. Participating in weddings in various capacities, the three Smeenk kids know the best functions to pull off a great wedding.
As with any project, Greg Smeenk threw all his energy into building a state-of-the-art wedding venue. After years of financial and building approvals, construction began last September. Greg was acting as the general contractor with many aspects being built by his own two hands. For everything else, he was proactive in overseeing other builders. Their Grand Opening Day was set to be in May, but because of Greg’s passing, it has been postponed to July, with their first scheduled weddings to follow shortly after.
The details of the main building are exquisite. Smeenks carefully placed the building with the best view of the Black Hills landscape, and carefully chose the layout of the building. There is a “secret door” to the bridal room and groom’s room. The west side features a two-story window, from which guests can enjoy watching the sunset during ceremonies, if the bride and groom choose. Three chandeliers made in the country of Kosovo – purchased by Jenna Smeenk with her knowledge from deployment there – are elegant features, as well as the grand staircase overlooking the main hall.
Another unique feature of The Barn Out West includes the horses and longhorns grazing in nearby pastures. Couples can organize photos with the animals in the background, but it is a picturesque scene for all in attendance. It is also a nod to Greg Smeenk’s rich roots in agriculture.
Before moving to the Belle Fourche area, Greg lived most of his early life on his family’s homesteaded ranch north of Newell. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and served as a police officer there for two years. He then proposed to his high school sweetheart, Sherry. The couple were also married at a beautiful Black Hills venue, called the Chapel in the Hills, modeled after a Twelfth Century Norwegian Borgund stavkirke (church). They then moved home to the ranch to raise livestock and their three children.
Beginning with the existing sheep and cattle herds, Smeenk slowly phased out of those industries to make room on the ranch for his true passion: buffalo. Not only did he succeed as a producer, he spent much of his career working as an advocate, too. He served as President of the Dakota Territory Buffalo Association, and achieved the placement of buffalo meat in Whole Foods in Dallas, Texas. He worked closely with Senator Tom Daschle, who became so interested in buffalo that he served buffalo meat to the United States Senate in Washington, D.C.
Having spent nearly three decades as a rancher, the time came to change paths. Smeenk’s children graduated high school, and he found a new passion in real estate. He began with buying apartment buildings, then became a broker and founded his own real estate company, Dakota Properties of Belle Fourche.
Smeenk had a unique mind for business, with a work ethic to match. One haying season, he spent 36 hours straight in a tractor to ensure that the hay crop was made perfectly. That tractor, which he used for 42 years, cost him $0.75 per day to own, according to his recent calculations. Smeenk was open to any new ideas and prospects, which is why his children were often involved in decision-making. All three of Smeenk’s children – Trisha, Jenna, and Jed – have served in the United States Air Force, a fact of which he was very proud.
As a team, the Smeenk kids helped their dad lay out plans for their next great project. Sherry says, “The combination of their experiences is what ended up making it really special.” From a fireplace for wintertime weddings, to extra space for the bridal party to get ready, to a preparation kitchen for vendors to keep food warm, it is all coming together to complete a grand vision. Finishing the wedding venue has now become a way to carry on their father’s work since his departure from this earth on April 9. Jed says, “It will be a beautiful venue, and a lot of that is literally because of Greg.”
For more information, see thebarnoutwest.com.