David Gilbertson credits the work ethic he learned at SDSU for helping him through the rigors of being the chief justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court.
That work ethic was on display in 1972 when Gilbertson needed just four years to graduate with majors in geography, history and political science.
The discipline he learned at SDSU serves him well on the state’s highest court as he’s called on to read from eight to ten hours a day to get through the more than 2,000 pages of written briefs and legal documents prepared by lawyers before his court.
Gilbertson’s law career included private practice, criminal prosecution and 10 years as a circuit court judge before Gov. Bill Janklow appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1995. In September 2001 he was elected by his fellow justices to oversee the court system.
As luck would have it, the October term of the court rotates throughout South Dakota and in 2001 it happened to be at SDSU.
“My first term as chief justice was in Brookings,” Gilbertson says. “To walk into the (Doner) auditorium where I had sat in the audience at plays and lectures and with the room looking the same, to walk in as chief justice, it was quite a thrill.”
Jim Langer loves a challenge. That was as evident in his football career as it is today in his business career.
Langer, an economics major who graduated in 1970, played middle linebacker for the Jackrabbits, but made his mark on the other side of the ball as one of the best centers in the history of the National Football League.
The Royalton, Minn., native was the starting center for every offensive down played by the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the last NFL team to go undefeated. An all-pro selection six times, Langer played in three Super Bowls and six Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1987.
Langer’s success didn’t stop there. Today he’s the owner of Custom Truck Accessories of Ham Lake, Minn.
“It is challenging to work with the different customers we have to solve their equipment needs,” Langer says. “I enjoy seeing our products solve problems and create solutions.”
As the first SDSU graduate to be elected governor of South Dakota, Mike Rounds ’77 didn’t paint the new governor’s residence in Pierre blue and yellow. He did, however, make a lasting impact on higher education.
The co-owner of an insurance and real estate agency in Pierre and a five-term state senator, as governor Rounds put an emphasis on bolstering South Dakota’s university research capabilities even while dealing with a series of budget deficits.
“It appeared to us if we wanted to meet the major challenge that we’d identified as keeping young people in South Dakota we had to give them a chance to do their research in the state,” Rounds says. “That was really the logic behind it: to grow our research capabilities, keep these people here and with it have a spinoff for economic development.”
In 2003, Rounds unveiled his 2010 Initiative designed to make South Dakota a leader in research and technology. The outcome was 10 research centers across the state, competitive research grants, a business plan competition and 23 new doctoral programs.
The political science major who got his start on SDSU inter-residence hall council and the Students’ Association Senate sums up his motivation for public service this way: “A lot of the reason was that I thought I could make a difference.”
The 1976 graduate was an active farmer and businessman near Oldham up until 2009 when President
Barack Obama appointed him undersecretary of agriculture for rural development in the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
The habit-forming schedule of working the land and caring for cows for 25 years near Oldham was preparation at its best.
“It’s pretty intense,” said Tonsager. “I wake up early and I’m usually at work before seven. I have a great staff, many of whom I have worked with for years.”
Tonsager helms an agency that oversees $37.5 billion annually in grants and loans to fund the building of housing and health facilities, energy development as well as construction of high-speed Internet, water, sewer, electric and phone service in rural areas. His division employs 6,000 in about 500 offices nationwide.
As a freshman at SDSU, Tonsager did volunteer work for presidential candidate George McGovern. Following graduation, he began farming full time. He was also active in the South Dakota Farmers Union, eventually becoming union state president.
In 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected president, then Senator Tom Daschle asked Tonsager to be state director of the Farmers Home Administration, later rural development.
When Clinton left office in 2001, Tonsager started a development business involving several projects, including a blue cheese processing plant in Wisconsin. In 2003, he was named executive director of the South Dakota Value-Added Agricultural Development Center. One year later, President George W. Bush appointed him to serve in the Farm Credit Administration.
In 2007, Tonsager helped start a group called “Rural Americans for Obama.”
When the 2008 election was over, Tonsager was part of the transition team and was later nominated by Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be undersecretary of rural development.