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Blacksmith or Wordsmith

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Thanks, Nancy!

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Jessie Sundstrom: May 18, 1922 -- September 5, 2013

September 12, 2013

Tags: Friend: Jessie Sundstrom

Jessie Sundstrom

. . .
Jessie Y. Sundstrom, good friend, local historian, editor, author, book publisher, reporter, and former publisher of the Custer County Chronicle newspaper, died last week at her home in Custer.

Among many heartfelt and notable statements made by those who spoke at Jessie’s memorial services were these.

Linea Sundstrom, Jessie’s daughter, said she realized that she was raised as an anthropologist from her earliest days, because Jessie was interested in everything and expected her children to be as well. And Jessie’s teaching about difficult problems: "Just figure it out." So what if you've never done it before; you can figure out how to do it.

Linea's daughter, Jessie the third, said "If you can think of anything more intimidating than being named Jessie Sundstrom, I’d like to talk to you after the services."

Art Amiotte, noted South Dakota Lakota artist called Jessie the "matriarch and guardian" of the Black Hills, and an "advocate of the marginal." He bestowed her Lakota name, which means She Who is Acutely and Astutely Aware of the Nuances of the Environment and Human Condition. And then he closed the services by singing her toward the Road Made of Stars-- and many tears began to fall.

Here is the eulogy I gave:

I’m not sure how long I knew Jessie, but I think we met at the home of her mother, Camille Yuill in Deadwood sometime in the 1970s, making it about forty years.

We knew we might be related, since some of my cousins are Yuills, but I don’t believe we ever got around to drawing up a family tree that showed the specifics.

Our mutual love of writing probably brought us together. Jessie delighted in language and could be downright demanding about how it was employed. She had no tolerance at all for sloppy writing or sloppy thinking.

I had a couple of other mentors who were pretty picky about writing, but Jessie was the most persnickety-- and the most encouraging.

When I needed guidance on state or county history, I usually consulted Jessie. If she didn't know the fact I needed, she knew who did and she called to introduce me.

We both had backgrounds in journalism and therefore we both had strong opinions about how journalistic writing should be done.

Our conversations were never short, or slow, and they rarely stuck to one subject. No matter where we started, we usually veered off into history, current news, politics.

She was a meticulous researcher and collector of historical fact; her office was always overflowing with books, papers, projects. No matter what we were discussing, she usually leapt up and pulled down a file, a photograph, a book or a stack of books relevant to the topic.

We didn't agree on everything, but we agreed on some important things. She had no time for narrow-mindedness and used her abilities as a writer to work against it-- anywhere she saw it.

Jessie didn't care much for compromise, but that usually worked out fine for her because she was usually right.

She probably wasn't always right-- but I might not say that if she were sitting in the front row giving me That Look.

When I visited her for the last time, she explained to me clearly that the cancer was back, that she was not going back to the hospital and that she was going to die at home as quickly and efficiently as possible so as not to disrupt her children's lives any more than necessary. But first she was going to finish proofreading her book about her mother, Camille. And she did just what she said she was going to do.

She told the 4th graders who interviewed her at Custer grade school that she wanted to be remembered as a free spirit and a "real true friend."

And that’s how I will remember her.

# # #

Here is the obituary for Jessie Sundstrom

Jessie Y. Sundstrom, former publisher of the Custer County Chronicle, died September 5, 2013 at her home in Custer. She was 91.

She was born in Rapid City and spent her early years there and in Custer. She grew up in Deadwood, graduating from high school there in 1940. She began her long association with the newspaper industry at age nine by folding copies of the Deadwood Pioneer-Times, where her mother, Camille Yuill, was city editor. By the time she was in high school, she was writing articles and local news items for the Black Hills Weekly.

She completed a secretarial course at Black Hills Business College in Rapid City in 1943, and later took classes at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Black Hills State College. From 1940-1947 she held secretarial positions for a judge, a state’s attorney, the U.S. Bureau of Mines, the contractor for the "igloos" at the Black Hills Ordnance Depot, and the Veterans Administration Hospital at Fort Meade.

In 1947, Jessie married Carl H. Sundstrom, publisher of the Custer County Chronicle. Five children were born to their marriage. Jessie worked at the Chronicle as accountant, reporter, photographer, and editor. In 1970, she was also employed as a crew chief for the US Census Bureau. With the death of her husband in December 1972, she took over as editor and publisher and continued to publish the paper until 1981. During that interval, she served as secretary and president of the Black Hills Press Association. Her reporting and editorials on racial unrest in Custer in February 1973 received praise for their thoroughness and objectivity.

Sundstrom served as president of the Custer County Extension Council; secretary of the Black Hills Playhouse board of directors for 25 years; secretary of the American Red Cross fund drive in Custer County for disabled children; secretary of the Badger Clark Memorial Society for 29 years; secretary and president of the Custer Parent-Teacher Association. She was active in Girl Scouting from 1948-1974, serving as troop leader, leader trainer, and president of the Black Hills Girl Scout Council. During the 1960s and 1970s, she served as media consultant for the national Girl Scout Roundup in Idaho, as delegate to the national Girl Scout Triennium in New Orleans, and as national committee member. She served on the board of directors of Crazy Horse Memorial for 35 years. Upon selling the Chronicle Sundstrom worked for several years as assistant administrator to Ruth Ziolkowski. Her accomplishments at Crazy Horse included helping to design and administer the Indian Museum of North America and the Indian Cultural Center.

Sundstrom was a member of the Custer County Historical Society from 1948 until her death. She managed the Custer County 1881 Courthouse Museum from 1998 to 2004 and was instrumental in preserving the Historic Landmark courthouse building. She was secretary to the museum board of trustees and the Custer County Historical Society board of directors until January 2006. As the go-to person for Custer County history, she often gave historic programs to the community and to school classes.

In 2003 she was honored at the Elders Program of the district. The fourth-grade class interviewed her and performed an original song about her life. The class wrote, "Jessie Sundstrom describes herself as a free spirit who wants to be remembered as a 'real true friend.'" She was Custer State Park historian for several years and a member of the South Dakota Historical Society board of directors for 12 years, also serving on the advisory boards for the State Archives and State Archaeologist's office.

She gave numerous presentations on history for the Jedediah Smith Corral of Westerners, the Black Hills Corral of Westerners, the Custer County Historical Society, and other organizations. In 1976, Sundstrom led a Bicentennial history project, culminating in publication, under her editorship, of Custer County History to 1974. She wrote several other books on area history including Pioneers and Custer State Park; A History of Custer City (1876-1925); Badger Clark, Cowboy Poet with Universal Appeal; and Carl Sanson, Black Hills Rancher. From 1995 to 2001 she published a monthly magazine, Hills and Plains History. She also edited and published books for other authors, including Tim Giago, Mel Gibbs, and Melvin H. Jackson. She had recently completed a biography of her mother, titled Camille.

Sundstrom received Girl Scouting’s highest award, the Thanks Badge, in 1974. The West River History Conference presented her its top award for preservation and history in 1994. The Badger Clark Memorial Society honored her in 1998 for service in connection with a South Dakota Public Television production of a play about Clark. She was awarded the Governor's Individual Award for History in 1999; the Dreamer's Award from Crazy Horse Memorial in 2001; Custer County Chamber of Commerce community service award in 2002, and the Community Circle for Education Award from the Custer School District in 2003. She was named Gold Discovery Days parade marshal in 2007.

She is survived by her daughters Julien (Bruce) Wiley and Linea Sundstrom (Glen Fredlund) and sons Carl (Phyl) and Roy Sundstrom, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Carl H. Sundstrom, daughter Christine, and sister, Barbara Herigstad.

A memorial service was held Tuesday, September 10th at the 1881 Courthouse Museum in Custer, with reception following. Inurnment was at Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis that afternoon.

A memorial has been established in Jessie's name to benefit the 1881 Courthouse Museum.

# # #

For more information:

Arrangements have been placed in the care of McColley's Chapel of the Hills in Custer. Written condolences may be made at

You can read more about Jessie's life in her own words at (Elders' Wisdom, Children's Song: South Dakota) and even hear a song composed and sung by the children from one of her stories. Click on the link to Custer and then select the cd cover from March, 2006 which includes the program about Jessie.

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