Herman (Herm) James Venekamp passed away peacefully August 23, 2021 at home in Fort Collins, Colorado. He was born November 7, 1933 to John and Ethel (Smith) Venekamp in Presho, South Dakota. He was the seventh of eight children and was of the first generation of Venekamps born in the United States.
Herm attended school in Presho, graduating in 1951. He enrolled at Dakota Wesleyan University in the fall of 1951 and was the only member of his family to attend college. He always said, “An education is something no one can take away from you.”
Herm met the love of his life Beverly Ann Heintz in 1952 while attending Dakota Wesleyan and they were married June 20, 1954 in Harrold, South Dakota. Their daughter Kathy was born in 1955 and sons Kurt in 1958 and Kenna in 1963.
In 1954, Herm enlisted in the Army and was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska. Honorably discharged in 1956, he returned to South Dakota and began a long career with the South Dakota Department of Corrections. He initially worked as an assistant to the night watchman at the State Training School in Plankinton, SD and would eventually return as Superintendent. While at the Training School, Herm advanced quickly, positively influencing the lives of thousands of teenage boys - coaching football and basketball, teaching the value of an education, and stressing the importance of life skills to become productive citizens.
In 1967, Herm was offered the position of Director of the Youth Forestry Camp in Custer, SD, a facility that housed 50 juvenile delinquents. Given free rein to design the facility and the curriculum, he ushered in a new era of corrections by balancing education, hard work, and personal responsibility, always teaching from his core belief that “actions have consequences, but you don’t have to be defined by past mistakes”.
Herm returned to the State Training School in Plankinton in 1988, culminating his 35-year career by retiring as the Superintendent in 1992. Herm impacted countless lives through his career as he helped young kids get back on the right track. Many of the young men impacted kept in close touch with him through the years, a testament to the respect and gratitude they had for him. In addition, Herm mentored dozens of young professionals, who followed in his footsteps to influence, teach, and protect the youth of South Dakota.
Herm was the 1978 recipient of the The Satnan-Canary Award, the most prestigious honor granted by the South Dakota Corrections Association. The Herm Venekamp Outstanding Member Award was established in 2015 to honor an SDCA member for their outstanding work in the field of corrections. Herm was honored by the Governor of South Dakota, naming “Herm Venekamp Day” twice in his career.
In addition to his wife and family, Herm loved fishing. He and Grandpa John spent many afternoons bird hunting across the creek and catching bass at Fate or Brakke dam. He would never be caught without a fishing pole behind the seat of his truck or in the trunk of his car and knew every stock dam west of Mitchell, one of his favorites being on his sister Es Gerard’s place south of Kennebec.
Herm enjoyed most sports and was a standout athlete in high school and college. He played many years in the South Dakota Amateur Basketball League where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.
In their retirement, Herm and Bev enjoyed spending winters in Arizona and summers in the Black Hills, mostly at Hart Ranch. Herm loved spending time with friends and family, and would often say, “Why not?” when invited for a round of golf, almost any card game, a game of pool, or an evening nightcap. He had a sharp wit, a quick wink, and an extremely big heart, especially when it involved his grandchildren.
Herm is survived by his wife Beverly, children Kathy (Jeff) Davis of Rapid City, SD, Kurt (Teresa) Venekamp of Fort Collins, CO, and Kenna (Sarah) Venekamp also of Fort Collins, CO, sister Esther Gerard of Kennebec, SD, sisters-in-laws Doris of Spearfish, SD and Rosemary of Yelm, WA, 8 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Herm was preceded in death by his parents, John and Ethel, his sisters Ann Meyers and Dorothy Walters, and his brothers, Willis, Robert, Jack, and Roger.
Herm will be buried at the Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, South Dakota, at 1:00 PM, on Friday October 15, 2021. A celebration of life will follow at the VFW in Rapid City, South Dakota. A memorial has been established in his name in the form of a scholarship at Dakota Wesleyan University.
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