The names of Sioux Falls' new schools — Thomas Jefferson High School and Benjamin Reifel Middle School — have been approved as of Monday night.
And while you'd be hard-pressed to find a high school student who doesn't know our third president, Reifel, a five-term Republican congressman, isn't as well-known. But his former field director thinks Reifel has a story that will be an inspiration to those who pass through the school bearing his name.
Rolly Samp worked for Reifel from 1962-1969, and said the congressman was a hard worker with a good sense of humor, who made sure to pay close attention to everything happening around him.
"Schools should be named after someone that inspires the students," Samp said. On that point, he said, Reifel succeeds.
Reifel was born in a log cabin on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, Samp said, and worked his way to a job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1933 where he worked for nearly 30 years, broken up only by serving in World War II and attending Harvard.
Eventually he decided to run for Congress, taking office in 1961, where he would remain until 1971. He was the first person of Sioux or Lakota descent to be elected to the House of Representatives.
"The students that attend Ben Reifel Middle School, what they should know is that he had no money, no powerful friends, and yet he was able to get elected to Congress for five terms," Samp said.
And Reifel remained the kind of man who would pull over when he saw someone on the side of the road, have a conversation with them and see if he could help.
"It helped keep him anchored in Congress," Samp said.
During his time in Congress, Reifel's achievements included supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and helping pass the legislation that started the National Endowment for the Humanities, Samp said, as well as working to make South Dakota the location of EROS.
"The message of Ben Reifel Middle School," Samp said, "should be that if he can do it, I can do it."