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Black Hills Stock Show Silver Spur Hall of Fame: John Powell

Lindsay Vee, Freelance Contributor

Some might say this recognition is long overdue – many have said exactly that – but John Powell never saw it coming. At 95 years old, he’s still just as much a part of the Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show as he was in his 30s.  

Some might say this recognition is long overdue – many have said exactly that – but John Powell never saw it coming. At 95 years old, he’s still just as much a part of the Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show as he was in his 30s.

“John was instrumental in starting 4-H rodeo here in the state of South Dakota,” said John Kersteins, president of the board of directors of the Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show. “I believe he was also instrumental in getting South Dakota 4-H rodeo recognized on the national level.”

Powell was born in Rapid City in 1924, the oldest child of John Henry and Lola (Payne) Powell. The grandson of Fanny “Top Of Head” (Pecokawin), an Oglala Sioux Native American, John came by his love for livestock honestly. Horses just happen to be his favorite. He fondly remembers receiving his first horse, saddle, boots and chaps when he was five years old. He spent his early years in Philip and Fairburn, but summers were for honing his horsemanship skills and learning about livestock on ranches and farms in Rapid Valley and the Cheyenne River Reservation with his father.

Drafted in 1943, during his senior year of high school, he was attached to the 20th Air Force.


After leaving basic training in Virginia in February of 1944, Powell’s boots didn’t touch American soil for the next two years, one month and fourteen days—not that he was counting. Powell served his country in WWII as a military policeman. He guarded the war room when the missions were being planned.

“Uncle Sam moved me around for the next two years, from North Africa to India, China and then Okinawa,” Powell said.  In 1946 he was discharged from the Army.

Once he got his boots firmly back on landlocked soil, he worked on the Angostura Dam project and later for a cattle company in the Nebraska Sandhills, where he was once again doing what he loved, taking care of cattle while riding good horses.

In 1948 Powell married Margaret Ellaine Gallagher of Hot Springs, South Dakota. They moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he got his animal science degree in 1952 from Colorado State University, despite never graduating high school.  He pursued his master’s degree in animal science in Oregon.  

John went to work for the Soil Conservation Service in Sturgis, South Dakota, then in 1954 he was appointed work unit conservationist for Ziebach county based out of Dupree. In 1955 he transferred to the South Dakota Extension Service as an agent for Ziebach county;  then in 1960 he transferred to Corson County as an Agent at McIntosh.

Powell was instrumental in starting the 4-H rodeo program in South Dakota, including getting it certified as a 4-H activity. His first effort to get 4-H rodeo sanctioned by the Extension Service was unsuccessful but he did manage to get roping events added to the horse project; just not any rough stock events. The first State 4-H Finals Rodeo was held at the Stanley County Fairgrounds in Fort Pierre in 1972, paving the way for generations of successful horsemen and rodeo athletes to get their start on South Dakota soil, thanks in large part to John Powell’s efforts.

“John was and is an excellent role model for any aspiring kid in ag or the rodeo arena,” Kersteins said. “He is truly a one-of-a-kind guy.”

As an extension agent, Powell was focused on beef cattle improvement, youth programs and crop testing with a bit of research sprinkled in. Together, Powell and his wife raised horses and three kids of their own – Randall, Deborah and John – first in Dupree, S.D. and then McIntosh.

All of his kids showed horses in 4-H at one point or another. Powell was also an AQHA-approved judge. He judged many shows and showmanship contests across not only South Dakota but a number of other states.

“My mom remembers having John judge her at horse shows,” said Lori Maude, a committee member for the Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show. “That just shows how long he has been contributing to youth in this area.”

As an extension agent, Powell spent a lot of his time helping with county, state and regional livestock shows. One of those was the Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show.

“John never forgot his roots,” Kersteins said. “He is a true American who has given back to his community, nation and the world. He’s quite a character who isn’t afraid to reach out and help the next generation.”

Always armed with a good story, Powell is also known for his quick wit and dry humor. Powell is sharp as a tack and still regularly attends spring brandings with Kersteins’ extended family.

“John has a big personality, he’s never known a stranger,” Maude said. “He’s always been a passionate supporter of our youth day events at the fair and show.”

Powell is this year’s inductee into the Black Hills Stock Show Silver Spur Hall of Fame. After a lifetime behind the scenes, Powell finally saw his own name in lights

“This award is a way for us to honor volunteers who have gone above and beyond to make a huge difference in our events,” Maude said. “We always need those people with passion projects and I think for John it was making sure those events were well done and well attended.”

Outside of his involvement with livestock, Powell also worked to bring people from both rural and urban backgrounds together. They call themselves the Western South Dakota Buckaroos. In what appears to be a simple trail ride across ranching ground is actually bringing people face-to-face with agriculture.

“It’s a way to bring people together out in God’s country,” Kersteins said. “We are also raising money to provide scholarships to South Dakota high school rodeo athletes.”

Powell is a charter member of the Buckaroos which was established in 1966.

Powell’s heart of service is always on display as he has yet to retire from making an impact on the agricultural industry. Even after his retirement from the Extension Service, he continued to work for the SDSU Beef Cattle Research Program until somewhere after his 80th birthday.

“John hasn’t been actively helping with the event for probably the last ten years, but he’s still made an effort to attend meetings and support those who were helping,” Maude said. “I think that just shows his dedication to our organization and our state.”

An avid team roper, horseman and cowboy, Powell used his work ethic and dedication to transform an entire state. His legacy continues spreading with each South Dakota rodeo and horse show that takes place. Beyond that, he’s a father, husband, friend, mentor, leader, and a veteran.

“He’s a true giver and would have never anticipated an award like this and he probably deserved it long ago,” Kersteins said. “He’s not one to want self-recognition like this, but it is very well deserved. He’s a gentleman in every sense of the word.”

Some might say this recognition is long overdue – many have said exactly that – but John Powell never saw it coming. At 95 years old, he’s still just as much a part of the Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show as he was in his 30s.  

“John was instrumental in starting 4-H rodeo here in the state of South Dakota,” said John Kersteins, president of the board of directors of the Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show. “I believe he was also instrumental in getting South Dakota 4-H rodeo recognized on the national level.”  

Powell was born in Rapid City in 1924, the oldest child of John Henry and Lola (Payne) Powell. The grandson of Fanny Top Of Head (Pecokawin), an Oglala Sioux Native American, John came by his love for livestock honestly. Horses just happen to be his favorite. He fondly remembers receiving his first horse, saddle, boots and chaps when he was five years old. He spent his early years in Philip and Fairburn, but summers were for honing his horsemanship skills and learning about livestock on ranches and farms in Rapid Valley and the Cheyenne River Reservation with his father.  

Drafted in 1943, during his senior year of high school, he was attached to the 20th Air Force.  

After leaving basic training in Virginia in February of 1944, Powell’s boots didn’t touch American soil for the next two years, one month and fourteen days—not that he was counting. Powell served his country in WWII as a military policeman. He guarded the war room when the missions were being planned.  

“Uncle Sam moved me around for the next two years, from North Africa to India, China and then Okinawa,” Powell said.  

In 1946 he was discharged from the Army.  

Once he got his boots firmly back on landlocked soil, he worked on the Angostura Dam project and later for a cattle company in the Nebraska Sandhills, where he was once again doing what he loved, taking care of cattle while riding good horses. 

In 1948 Powell married Margaret Ellaine Gallagher of Hot Springs, South Dakota. They moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he got his animal science degree in 1952 from Colorado State University, despite never graduating high school. 

He pursued his master’s degree in animal science in Oregon, but didn’t take the final exams.  

John went to work for the Soil Conservation Service in Sturgis, South Dakota, then was appointed work unit conservationist for Ziebach county, based out of Dupree.  

Powell later became a South Dakota Extension agent, where he was instrumental in starting the 4-H rodeo program in South Dakota, including getting it certified as a 4-H activity. He worked to have roping events added to the horse project. The first State 4-H Finals Rodeo was held at the Stanley County Fairgrounds in Fort Pierre in 1972, paving the way for generations of successful horsemen and rodeo athletes to get their start on South Dakota soil, thanks in large part to John Powell’s efforts. 

“John was and is an excellent role model for any aspiring kid in ag or the rodeo arena,” Kersteins said. “He is truly a one-of-a-kind guy.”  

As an extension agent, Powell was focused on beef cattle improvement, youth programs and crop testing with a little bit of research sprinkled in. Together, Powell and his wife raised horses and three kids of their own – Randall, Deborah and John – first in Dupree, S.D. and then McIntosh. 

All of his kids showed horses in 4-H at one point or another. Powell was also an AQHA-approved judge. He judged many shows and showmanship contests across the state. 

“My mom remembers having John judge her at horse shows,” said Lori Maude, a committee member for the Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show. “That just shows how long he has been contributing to youth in this area.”  

As an extension agent, Powell spent a lot of his time helping with county, state and regional livestock shows. One of those was the Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show.  

“John never forgot his roots,” Kersteins said. “He is a true American who has given back to his community, nation and the world. He’s quite a character who isn’t afraid to reach out and help the next generation.”  

Always armed with a good story, Powell is also known for his quick wit and dry humor. Powell is sharp as a tack and still regularly attends spring brandings with Kersteins’ extended family. 

“John has a big personality, he’s never known a stranger,” Maude said. “He’s always been a passionate supporter of our youth day events at the fair and show.”  

Powell is this year’s inductee into the Black Hills Stock Show Silver Spur Hall of Fame. After a lifetime behind the scenes, Powell finally saw his own name in lights 

“This award is a way for us to honor volunteers who have gone above and beyond to make a huge difference in our events,” Maude said. “We always need those people with passion projects and I think for John it was making sure those events were well done and well attended.” 

Outside of his involvement with livestock, Powell also worked to bring people from both rural and urban backgrounds together. They call themselves the Western South Dakota Buckaroos. In what appears to be a simple trail ride across ranching ground is actually bringing people face-to-face with agriculture. 

“It’s a way to bring people together out in God’s country,” Kersteins said. “We are also raising money to provide scholarships to South Dakota high school rodeo athletes.”  

Powell wasn’t there from the very beginning of the Buckaroos in 1966, but it shouldn’t be surprising that he found his way there the very next year. 

Powell’s heart of service is always on display as he has yet to retire from making an impact on the agricultural industry. 

“John hasn’t been actively helping with the event for probably the last ten years, but he’s still made an effort to attend meetings and support those who were helping,” Maude said. “I think that just shows his dedication to our organization and our state.”  

An avid team roper and cattle rancher, Powell used his work ethic and dedication to transform an entire state. His legacy continues spreading with each South Dakota rodeo and horse show that takes place. Beyond that, he’s a father, husband, friend, mentor, leader, and a veteran. 

“He’s a true giver and would have never anticipated an award like this and he probably deserved it long ago,” Kersteins said. “He’s not one to want self-recognition like this, but it is very well deserved. He’s a gentleman in every sense of the word.” 




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