SPEARFISH — Legionnaires from across the state traveled to Spearfish Saturday to commemorate “Fred Nelson Day” in Spearfish, honoring the new state commander of the American Legion Department of South Dakota. 

The Spearfish American Legion Post and Auxiliary 164 hosted a homecoming reception for Nelson at the High Plains Western Heritage Center, complete with a social, program, and dinner.

 “This is a special day, as one of my lifelong friends has been elected as the South Dakota American Legion department commander,” Brian Hambek, Post commander of the Spearfish American Legion Post 164, said in his welcome. 

Nelson was elected to the one-year term June 9 by delegates attending the 101st annual state convention of the American Legion in Sioux Falls. 

“Fred lives for the American Legion and supports the four pillars in full,” Hambek said.

The American Legion was founded in 1919 on four pillars: Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism, and Children and Youth. Each encompasses a variety of programs that benefit veterans, service members, their families, youth, and citizens. The American Legion is the largest wartime veteran service organization in South Dakota, with more than 18,000 members serving in 240 local American Legion Posts. 

Micheline Nelson, president of the Spearfish Auxiliary Unit 164, welcomed the distinguished Legion and Auxiliary guests and family members, friends, and community members in attendance to the homecoming of the new state commander – who is also her husband.

“I’m looking forward to the upcoming year, traveling with my husband, the commander, visiting Post units, meeting the grassroots members who keep the organization strong, serving our community, state, and nation, and attending events, district meetings, and conventions,” she said.

Col. (ret.) Mike Kain, assistant director of the American Legion Riders Chapter 164, acted as the master of ceremonies during the event and described what impresses him the most about Fred and Micheline Nelson: “It’s their unending passion and dedication in ensuring our veterans, their families, and our communities are protected and cared for,” he said. 

During the celebration, Mayor Dana Boke proclaimed June 29 as “Fred Nelson Day,” encouraging “the Legion Family to thank Fred heartily for his dedicated service to the community, state, and nation.”

Prior to the proclamation, Boke quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said, “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”

“And so that’s what we’re here today for,” she said, describing that the community is very proud of Nelson and his lifetime of service.

Brian Dean, past Post commander of Spearfish American Legion Post 164, was the guest speaker at the ceremony. He spoke about leadership and the ways in which Nelson exemplifies servant leadership, or putting the needs of others first and helping them to perform at the highest levels possible by inspiring action through personal example.

“Fred understands that his role is to serve both the community of veterans to which we are responsible, and the Legionnaires with whom he serves,” Dean said, adding, “No one can deny that Fred has a passion for the American Legion and its pillar causes.”

“I know that Fred will inspire a vision for service,” Dean said, adding, “The American Legion needs strong leadership. The challenges before us demand our very best effort. I am confident in saying that our department commander is up to the challenges. … Department Commander Fred Nelson: Post 164, the Legion Riders, and the Sons (of the American Legion) are proud of you. You have been given a gift (of leadership); you have proven that you are worthy.”

Nelson thanked the American Legion, his mentors, his employer, Black Hills State University, his family, and his wife, Micheline — whom he described as the person who keeps him together and helps him find the right path – for supporting him in the endeavor to be elected as state commander.

“I have to tell you – this is … an extreme honor,” he said.

Nelson described the American Legion Family as his extended family and said that three main objectives during his one-year term would be membership, ensuring participation in the organization; mentorship, ensuring continued leadership development to carry on the legacy of the American Legion; and media relations, ensuring the sharing of the stories of veterans across the state and the ways in which the American Legion serves.

“I’m looking forward to the many challenges I will encounter this year,” Nelson said, adding, “The American Legion’s success depends entirely on active membership, participation, and volunteerism. … Please join me in this coming year and help me carry on the legacy of the American Legion. Thank you very much.”

During the ceremony, Nelson was presented with the State Commander Banner from Denny Brenden, immediate past state commander, who explained that the banner hangs in the American Legion Post of the current state commander.

“It hung in Post 17 in Watertown and now will hang in Post 164, Spearfish. Congratulations,” he said.

Nelson is the director of network and computing services at Black Hills State University and graduated from Spearfish High School in 1981. At age 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served as an aircraft crew chief and later as an Air Training Command instructor.  

Nelson is a 21-year continuous member of the American Legion and is currently a member of the Spearfish American Legion Post 164, where he serves as the Americanism officer, assistant adjutant, and road captain with the American Legion Riders.

He is a life member of the American Legion and is member of Sons of the American Legion, American Legion Riders, ANAVICUS, Disabled American Veterans, and the Air Force Sergeants Association. He also serves as the advisor to the BHSU Yellow Jackets Vets Club.

Nelson received the Robert C. Gabrielson Memorial Leadership Award in 2018 and graduated from the National American Legion College in 2011. He also served as a charter board member for the South Dakota American Legion Foundation and has held positions and committee assignments in the American Legion at the post, county, district, state, and national level.

Only one other Spearfish Post 164 Legionnaire has held the office of South Dakota Department Commander of the American Legion, Earl Hood, from 1965-66.

The accolades continue for Nelson this week: He was chosen as the parade marshal for the Spearfish Independence Day Parade, which begins at noon at Spearfish High School. Due to construction, the traditional parade route has changed, with the parade traveling from the high school to Ryan Road onto Main Street, continuing to its conclusion at Grant Street.

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