Spirit of Dakota
South Dakota's Premier Woman's Award
Established October 1986
Close August 1st
Please mail nominations to:
Spirit of Dakota Award Society
PO Box 280
Huron, SD 57350
Spirit of Dakota Event
Statement of Purpose & Criteria
The Spirit of Dakota Award is an annual honor bestowed each fall by the Spirit of Dakota Award Society at a state-wide event at the Crossroads Hotel & Huron Event Center. The Spirit of Dakota award is given to:
- An outstanding South Dakota woman who has demonstrated leadership qualities and has been successful and admired in her community and state.
- A woman with roots deep in Dakota whose courage and strength of character have helped develop her family and community.
- A woman who has represented social, cultural, and education advancement for others.
- This award is not Mother of the Year, nor Teacher of the Year, nor categorized but rather a recognition of those outstanding women who have been the symbols of all that we are proud of in our Prairie Women.
- The nominee does not need to be a native of South Dakota, but must be a current, living resident of the state.
History of Spirit of Dakota Award
The nine foot bronze sculpture "Spirit of Dakota" which stands at the entrance of the Crossroads Hotel & Huron Event Center is the source for the state-wide Spirit of Dakota Award. Dale Claude Lamphere, nationally recogonized sculptor and artist, is the creator. This sculpture of a pioneer woman balanced against the wind was unveiled and dedicated in October 1987 by the citizens of Huron and is the unique possession of this community.
Spirit of Dakota Award
South Dakota's Premier Woman's Award
This prestigious Spirit of South Dakota award plaque is an outstanding piece of art; each individually created by renowned sculptor, Dale Claude Lamphere, and treasured by each honoree. A one-foot bronze oval is graced with the pioneer woman sculpted upon its facade. To further illuminate the award, the bronze oval is mounted on smoky black lucite which is etched with the award inscription. The final element of the honor is an 18x20 burnished gold wooden frame which securely hold the cherished woman.
2019 Spirit of Dakota Award Winner
Jo Vitek - Watertown
Jo Vitek - 2019 Spirit of Dakota Award Winner
The daring and bold spirit of pioneer women is also found in the heart and soul of this year’s Spirit of Dakota Award recipient, namely, Jo Vitek of Watertown. This quality combined with her strength of character and commitment to serving others has led to a lifetime of achievements and contributions to her community and state.
When encountering obstacles, Jo finds another way. As the first woman Chief of Police in Watertown – one of her many achievements to break barriers for women in law enforcement and other male-dominated professions – Jo has not been deterred by long-time traditions. She values each person and believes in their purpose in life.
Throughout her career in law enforcement, Jo broke the mold and continues to inspire others to serve and protect public safety. As she worked towards retirement, her calling to contribute to the law enforcement profession was not yet complete. She recognized the need for well-trained officers both in skill and character.
True to her nature, she strove to create a model program at Lake Area Tech to train the next generation of law enforcement officers who now serve communities across the state. Jo continues to work part-time at the Lake Area Tech Law Enforcement Program to guide accreditation and she also serves on the South Dakota Law Enforcement Commission. She actively contributes to the profession through books, articles and national conference presentations.
One of Jo’s most effective qualities is that she leads by example to inspire others to serve. This quality makes her a great leader and teacher. The Law Enforcement Program at Lake Area Teach is known for students who display the highest levels of professionalism and character while always being willing to volunteer in the community.
Jo is deeply committed to giving back and, as a result, volunteerism on the Lake Area campus and in the community is a core component of the program. Students volunteer in many capacities from working with children at Camp Chance Christmas to providing security to educating others about sexual assault protection. When students graduate, this spirit of volunteerism is an engrained value that will benefit the communities they serve for decades to come.
Another of Jo’s remarkable characteristics is her ability to build bridges and bring people together to accomplish a common goal. During the summer of 2014 Providence Solutions was created by Jo to assist churches, non-profits and other organizations. As part of this work, Jo started providing pulpit supply and talking about her experience as a survivor of child abuse. Knowing the statistics that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused, Jo has been on a mission to shed light on the issue. However, her goal is not to be in the spotlight but for her story to serve as a message of hope and healing for victims of child abuse.
To further this mission in 2016 Jo her husband, Tony, now deceased, created Jo’s Hope, Healing and Hoof Prints (Triple H) at Joy Ranch. This type of therapy is meant to help the child heal emotional, spiritual, and physical wounds and re-gain their sense of well-being again. To ensure that this program has a lasting impact, the Viteks established an endowment fund at the Watertown Area Community Foundation.
Also in 2016 Jo launched Hope in God for women survivors of child sexual abuse. Hope in God is a Christian network of women survivors who serve as a resource for law enforcement and churches offering a weekly Wounded Heart book study, one-to-one mentoring, and other outreach opportunities to raise awareness and serve as a community resource. The following year she also helped launch Hope in God for men.
Today the combined work of these organizations involves hundreds of survivors and volunteers. As a true leader, Jo was concerned about continued growth and sustainability. As a way to provide for a lasting legacy, she created Divine Providence of South Dakota in 2017. The organization is guided by a volunteer board of directors with Jo serving as President and Jan DeBerg, executive director of the Watertown Area Community Foundation, serving as vice president. An endowment fund was established in memory of her late husband, Tony.
A lifetime of commitment and service to others is truly deserving of recognition. Not only Watertown but the entire state of South Dakota has been made a better place for all of us to live. We extend our congratulations to Jo Vitek in her selection as the 2019 Spirit of Dakota Award winner. By Bette Poppen
Pictured above: Ginger Thomson, Brookings, Selection Commission; First Gentleman Bryon Noem, Selection Commission; Jo Vitek, Watertown, 2019 Award Winner; Marilyn Hoyt, Huron, Spirit of Dakota Award Chair
- Evelyn Blum, Aberdeen
- Mary Gates, Pierre
- Amber Rae Hulse, Sioux Falls
- Ruby McMillian Johannsen, Huron
- Rhonda Kludt, Huron
- Jo Vitek, Watertown
- Mary Helen Wipf, Huron
- 1987 - *Mrs. Winifred Lorentson, Miller
- 1988 - *Dr. Jeanie K. Sherman, Madison
- 1989 - *Florence Bruhn, Watertown
- 1990 - *Jeanette Lusk, Huron
- 1991 - *Dorothy (D.J.) Cline, Brookings
- 1992 - No Award Presentaion
- 1993 - *Ruth Ziolkowski, Custer
- 1994 - Sylvia Henkin., Sioux Falls
- 1995 - Irene Fisher Coon, Sioux Falls
- 1996 - Hildreth Twostars Venegas, Sisseton
- 1997 - Lorraine Huntimer, Oldham
- 1998 - Mary Lou Tripp, Belle Fourche
- 1999- Marsha Sumpter, Phillip
- 2000- *Donna Schipke, Newell
- 2001 - Phyllis White Eyes DeCory, Rapid City
- 2002 - Virginia Keil Lardinois, Huron
- 2003 - Patricia Fawcett, Ree Heights
- 2004 - *Alice Kundert, Mound City
- 2005 - No Award Presentation
- 2006 - Janice Manolis, Huron
- 2007 - June James, Hazel
- 2008 - Elaine Doll-Dunn, Spearfish
- 2009 - Julie Garreau, Eagle Butte
- 2010 - Dorothy Kellogg, Watertown
- 2011 - Millie Humphrey, Whitewood
- 2012 - Mary J. Milroy, MD, Yankton
- 2013- Patricia Baird, Custer
- 2014 - Theresa Stehly, Sioux Falls
- 2015 - Mary Alice Woster Haug, Brookings
- 2016 - Susan DeLaney-Kary, Parmelee
- 2017 - Jean Wilkinson, DeSmet
- 2018 - Beverly Stabber Warne, Rapid City
- 2019 - Jo Vitek, Watertown
- Tona Rozum, Chair - Mitchell
- Glenna Fouberg - Aberdeen
- Jean Hunhoff - Yankton
- First Gentleman Bryon Noem
- Suzette Kirby - Sioux Falls
- Julie Garreau - Eagle Buttte
- Marsha Sumpter - Kadoka
- Ginger Thomson - Brookings
- Judy Trzynka - Watertown
- Bev Wright - Turton
Spirit of Dakota Award Society
- Beckie Freeman
- Deannie LeRoux
- Rosemary Moeller
- Shelley Noonan
- Mary Pearson
- Bette Poppen
- Terri Anderson-Schlader
- Linda Schwartz
- Mary Helen Wipf
- Darcy Haber
- Sarah Rubish
- Erica McNeil
- Jenny Sorben
- Jane Meekins
- Carol Milbrandt
- Chery Dick
- Sarah Radke