2019 Award Recipients

Annually, the South Dakota Parks and Recreation Association recognizes organizations and individuals for their work and dedication to communities through parks and recreation. Awards are selected by past and present SDPRA board members composed of parks and recreation professionals. The awards encourage dedication and support to the field of parks and recreation.

Congratulations to the 2019 SDPRA award winners!

  • Years of Service Awards: Steve Papendick, Paul Beckwith, Jon Corey, Becky Graff, Sue Palmer
  • Distinguished Citizen Award: Karen Olson, Rapid City
  • Individual Citation Award: Mitch Best, volunteer with Rapid City Parks and Recreation
  • Young Professional Award: Erin Holmes, Rapid City Parks and Recreation
  • Professional Service Award: Emilie Miller, South Dakota State Parks, Pierre
  • Hall of Fame Award: Bob Schneider, South Dakota State Parks (retired), Pierre
  • Hall of Fame Award: Lon Van Deusen, Rapid City Parks and Recreation

Years of Service Recognition

Paul Beckwith, Steve Papendick and John Corey display plaques commemorating their long-time service in the field of parks and recreation.

Five individuals were recognized for their long-time service and contributions to the field of parks and recreation in South Dakota. In total, they represent 140 years of service and expertise in this field.

  • Steve Papendick, South Dakota State Parks, Angostura Recreation Area, 40 years
  • Paul Beckwith, South Dakota State Parks, Pierre Administration Office, 30 years
  • Jon Corey, South Dakota State Parks, North Point Recreation Area, 30 years
  • Becky Graff, South Dakota State Parks, Oakwood Lakes Recreation Area, 20 years (not pictured)
  • Sue Palmer, South Dakota State Parks, Custer State Park, 20 years (not pictured)

Distinguished Citizen Award
Karen Olson

SDPRA President Brandon Brake recognizes Karen Olson with the Distinguished Citizen Award, accompanied by Jeff Biegler, Rapid City Parks and Recreation Director.

The Distinguished Citizen Award is presented to a citizen volunteer who demonstrates outstanding leadership, counsel, contributions, or other efforts to assist a park and recreation agency in its programs or projects. Rapid City Parks and Recreation was proud to announce Karen Olson as this year’s recipient.

Olson served as the City Council Liaison to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board from 2006 through 2008 and then served on the board beginning in 2012. She was reappointed in 2015 and again in 2018. Olson has served as Chairman since 2018. When serving as a City Council member, Olson was very supportive of the department’s budget proposals as well as funding requests for special projects such as the Vision Fund. She takes time to educate herself on all issues facing the department and staunchly supports staff when decisions are made. Olson is very active in the Black Hills Tennis Association and was instrumental in raising funds for the Parkview Tennis Court project. She also takes an active interest in all USTA activities hosted and promoted through the Rapid City Parks and Recreation department. Olson was elected to the Rapid City Sports Hall of Fame in 2017 in recognition of her tireless efforts to promote tennis throughout the Rapid City community.


Individual Citation Award
Mitch Best

Co-workers Jason Olson and Doug Lowe recognize volunteer Mitch Best with the Individual Citation Award.

The Individual Citation Award is awarded to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to parks, recreation, or conservation at the local, state, regional or national level. This citation was presented to Mitch Best, a local volunteer for the Rapid City Parks and Recreation department.

Best has volunteered at Rapid City’s Sioux Park for over thirty years. He helps with every park and recreation program that uses Sioux Park. The pride he takes in the Sioux Park complex is amazing. He helps with tennis lessons and tournaments. He assists with all track, football and soccer events. Best helps any program or school that uses Sioux Park, but he also supports every person who competes and uses Sioux Park. He wears many hats such as the maintenance man, grounds keeper and biggest fan that Sioux Park knows. Best does more work at Sioux Park than anyone and everything he does is on a volunteer basis. Sioux Park is one of the nicest, most well kept sports complex in the area and it is largely due to Mitch Best. There is not a person in Rapid City that is involved in recreational activities that does not recognize Best. He is the face of Sioux Park. He keeps the facility clean and is willing to assist in any way he knows how. Not only does Best look out for the Sioux Park Complex, but he is a coach’s best friend and asks for nothing in return. He not only makes and keeps Sioux Park a top-notch facility, but he makes the lives easier for all who use Sioux Park.


Young Professional Award
Erin Holmes, Rapid City

Erin Holmes receives the Young Professional Award from presenter and co-worker Doug Lowe.

We are proud to present the 2019 Young Professional award to Erin Holmes. Erin worked for Rapid City Parks & Recreation as a part-timer for six years. Her leadership qualities gained her the job duties of full time manager of the Roosevelt Park Ice Arena for the past 5 years. She has been active in both SDPRA and NRPA conferences. She is the liaison for the department to the Rushmore Hockey Association and the Black Hills Figure Skating Club. Erin developed and implemented several programs within the facility including recruitment of home school students and specialized programs to fit their needs. Her leadership also included outreach programs for a positive public relation opportunity for the department by coordinating the Salvation Army Christmas Tree and SDDHS Vocational Rehab Program within the facility. Erin has received several certifications including ServSafe, Safesport, and portions of the Certified Rink Managers Program in 2016. Erin is certified to teach American Red Cross courses and became the department’s Community Emergency Response Team member by completing G-317 Basic CERT Training. Most recently, she became a Certified Park and Recreation Profession this past July. Erin has developed several new programs for the ice arena including Player Development, Hockey Mentor, Lap skating for Fitness, Adult Coffee Skate and Icicles Club to name a few. With her leadership, the Black Hills Gold Rush was able to expand from a LTSUSA Basic Skills competition to a sanctioned USFSA competition with nationally certified judges. This allowed the department to offer a well-rounded regional competition with high level events for advanced and adult skaters.


Professional Service Award
Emilie Miller, South Dakota State Parks, Pierre

SDPRA President Brandon Brake presents Emilie Miller with the Professional Service Award, accompanied by presenter and co-worker Katy Hiltunen.

Emilie Miller was enthusiastically endorsed as our 2019 South Dakota Parks and Recreation Association Professional Meritorious Service Award winner. Emilie has worked in the parks and recreation field for over two decades beginning as a seasonal park employee in the Watertown area. This experience affirmed her love for the outdoors and led to a career with South Dakota State Park System.

Emilie has served in many capacities with the Division of Parks and Recreation with the common component being helping people and educating youth. As the Division’s park volunteer coordinator for over a decade, Emilie refined the program into one that attracts volunteers from across the nation. The budget saving value of the program is significant; but the greater value is the personal contact the volunteers have with park guests and the satisfaction received by the volunteers. State Park volunteers become some of South Dakota’s greatest ambassadors.

Emilie is a gifted teacher and has a creative mind that shows no limits. Over the years, she has created innumerable outdoor education programs that are both fun and educational. In addition to “teaching the teachers” (park naturalists), she thrives on teaching in the field. Even though her weekday job ties her to a desk in the Foss Building, Emile can be found in the parks many weekends assisting with park programs, usually with her two volunteer daughters in tow.

In addition to her creativity, Emilie is an excellent writer and has an analytical mind. Emilie is the Division’s go-to person for technical reports and promotion pieces. When tasked with negotiating and monitoring the Division’s multi-million-dollar campsite reservation contract, Emilie showed herself as a skilled negotiator with a keen attention to detail and the bottom line.

Emilie has been an active SDPRA member for her entire professional career. She continues as a leader in the organization. Emilie wears many hats, all of which contribute to South Dakota’s outstanding park and recreation offerings.


Hall of Fame Award
Bob Schneider, South Dakota State Parks, Pierre

SDPRA President Brandon Brake presents Bob Schneider with the Hall of Fame Award, accompanied by presenters and long-time co-workers Al Nedved and Jeff VanMeeteren.

SDPRA Hall of Fame Award is given to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the parks and recreation field in South Dakota based on reputable performance attested to personal record of accomplishments. This year we recognize Bob Schneider, retired assistant director of the South Dakota State Parks.

Bob’s leadership skills have proven themselves again and again. During his 40-year career in State government, Bob has served in three major roles within GFP’s Division of Parks and Recreation that really serve to highlight his leadership skills: Concessions Administrator, Assistant Director in charge of Planning and Development and Assistant Director in charge of Operations. All three carried a high-level of importance to the field of parks and recreation and presented unique challenges.

Bob accepts new challenges whole heartedly and seamlessly. Like any good leader, Bob has been a continuous source of support and encouragement to central office staff and field staff alike.

Bob’s contributions to the field of parks and recreation are far-reaching, especially within the department. Bob has been at the center of nearly every development and operational issue in the South Dakota state parks over the past two decades. Whether it was concessionaires, park development, Emerald Ash Borer outbreak, special events, fire recovery or simply sharing his unique philosophical insights from growing up on a farm, Bob has touched most of us in many ways.

He has been a catalyst in campground expansion over the years, with development being his real passion. In 1999-2001, Bob was tasked with coordinating the Title VI Missouri River Park Development (transfer of management of numerous parks along the Missouri River from the Corps of Engineers to Game, Fish and Parks). This was no easy task, as it involved countless details, both operationally and developmentally. These parks now amount to 1/3 of the total state park system.

Serving in the assistant director’s roles enabled Bob to be involved in almost all parks across the State of South Dakota and their local communities. In his earlier days, he played the role of grants coordinator, working with local governments to improve recreational opportunities. Bob especially enjoys working with the people we serve in these communities, mirroring the passion they have for their local parks in wanting them to be the best they could be. He developed partnerships and relationships with several groups to move parks and recreation forward.

Bob’s contributions will stand the test of time is making sure the division was reasonably self-sufficient, placing focus on creating revenue-generating services and facilities to help support the essential – but non-revenue making – services essential to public recreation users. By stressing the importance of preventative maintenance in the state parks, he also sparked other entities to examine their own facilities, starting a timely trend across the state.


Hall of Fame Award
Lon Van Deusen, Rapid City

SDPRA President Brandon Brake presents Lon VanDeusen with the Hall of Fame Award.

SDPRA Hall of Fame Award is given to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the parks and recreation field in South Dakota based on reputable performance attested to personal record of accomplishments. This year we recognize Lon VanDeusen of Rapid City.

Throughout Lon VanDeusen’s 40+-year career, he has had leadership roles during pivotal moments in the development of Parks and Recreation within Rapid City’s community and industry. As with most professionals during this time period, Lon gained valuable experience from entry-level positions like Grounds Maintenance at Meadowbrook Golf Course to Seasonal Park Ranger at Bear Butte State Park. At which time the Flood of 1972 changed the lives of the citizens of Rapid City forever. Lon’s family home was destroyed and the stories about the individual’s experiences only he can tell. In his words, “The beautiful Meadowbrook Golf Course now occupies the space where our home once stood.” VanDeusen supervised the grow-in period of the course. His first full time management position with the City of Rapid City came in 1975 as the City was slowly moving forward from the devastation. He was the Urban Forester under the Public Works Department where he developed landscapes and tree planting programs, reviewed commercial landscape plans, held a position to the forestry board, developed the communities Dutch Elm Disease Control Program and helped establish the greenway that the City of Rapid City continues to enjoy today. In 1985, his leadership and grit were recognized by becoming the Parks Division Manager where he continued to manage and develop 1,200 acres of public ground. He was a part of Operation Evergreen a community reforestation project in 1987 and became SDPRA President in 1989. While president, many new programs and members joined the association including the Aquatic Section. The most significant change during this time period, President George H. Bush signed into law the “Americans with Disabilities Act” dramatically impacting the way Parks and Recreation agencies service their communities. Just a couple of his contributions to the department include development of the Urban Deer Management Program and the West Nile Preparedness and Mosquito Control Plan. Other leadership roles include SDPRA Maintenance School Committee, Pennington County Weed and Pest Board, Rapid City Urban Forestry Committee, and the Rapid City Beautification Committee. His leadership assisted in the creation of the Parks and Recreation Department 2004 with a smooth transition.

In addition to the information above, VanDeusen held memberships with South Dakota Parks & Recreation Association and National Recreation & Parks Association from 1986-2016. He received the Meritorious Processional Service Award in 1993 and 40 years of Service Award in 2015. He maintained his Certified Parks and Recreation Professional (#10356019) designation from 1991-2017. Other certifications include South Dakota Master Gardener and Public Operator for Pesticide Applications. Most distinguished honor he has received is the South Dakota Municipal League Hall of Fame in 2011. Because of his commitment of commuting to work through cycling, we created the Commuter of the Year Award, which he was the inaugural recipient in 2015. He has lent support to several local organizations within our community like the Noon Optimist or area Homeowners Associations whether it would be speaking at one of their meetings or assisting in the organization’s event preparations.

VanDeusen’s public relations and institutional knowledge is what we cherish the most. Black Hills Knowledge Network helps connect numerous public libraries, community officials, content providers and users who all have a vision for information that is used by local leaders to make educated decisions. He has contributed to this resource. The Rapid City Parks and Recreation department still calls upon him as a resource from time to time, and not just because he continues to bring them chocolate when he comes in.