Her Vote Her Voice

Courtesy photo

EDITOR’S NOTE: After 70 years of marching, campaigning and working hard to gain equal rights, the women of the United States celebrated a milestone victory in 1920, when they earned the right to vote and hold public office with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Within the Black Hills Pioneer coverage area there are a multitude of great women, who work every day to make their communities a better place. Knowing this, we decided to mark this special centennial with a series that celebrates women in our communities.

The hardest part about this project was selecting the women to profile, as the quality of nominations we received was superb. This led us to draw the conclusion that our Northern Hills area is filled with so many great women, that we can’t possibly write about them all. We think that’s pretty amazing, actually.

Over the next week we will highlight five women — one from each of our major coverage cities — who are not typically in the news. These women work quietly, behind the scenes, and they usually avoid the camera when they’re doing their good work. These women are humble. When we called to set up interviews, none of them understood why we were approaching them to do a story, because they are only doing “the next right thing.”

This is the fourth in a six-part series.

DEADWOOD — Louie Lalonde does not sit back quietly, waiting for other people to do the work. If there’s something in Deadwood that needs to get done, she will make it happen.

It’s a lesson that her parents taught her early in life, and it’s the philosophy that she carries with her as she co-owns and operates the Saloon No. 10 and the Deadwood Social Club — two of Deadwood’s hottest attractions on Main Street.

“My father instilled in all of us that in order to get things done, you have to make it happen,” Lalonde said. “You can’t just sit back and wait for someone to do something. It’s better if you will move forward, think forward, and just jump into the fire. Thankfully, all my life I have been willing to do that.”

Born into the culture of Deadwood where neighbors take care of neighbors — even when they’re a little rough around the edges — Lalonde grew up around the world famous Saloon No. 10 when her father purchased the business in 1963. She knows the value of hard work, but she also knows the value of service to community and treating people well. Today, she employs those three principles as she co-owns the Saloon No. 10 and Deadwood Social Club with her brother, Gary Keehn, and her sister, Laurie Moore. She has served on the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce Board for 26 years. She has also proudly served on the former Deadwood Revitalization Committee, which has now changed to the Main Street Initiative Committee. Other boards and commissions Lalonde has served with include the Historic Preservation Commission, the Deadwood Economic Development board, Deadwood Jam, Deadwood Alive, the Deadwood Gaming Association, Black Hills Badlands and Lakes, the Deadwood-Lead Historic Arts Council, and the Charlie Utter Days Committee. She is also a lifelong member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Deadwood.

Lalonde has always been a businesswoman who consistently operates with a “service before self” mentality — tirelessly working for the benefit of the Deadwood community. She’s seen many changes in town with the advent of gaming, and she has played a significant role in supporting the heart of the town she calls home.

“In the very beginning, when gaming started, Gordy Pratt was walking down the street and he stuck his head in the door. He said, ‘I’m going to this marketing meeting. They’ve got $1 million to spend,’” Lalonde said as she remembered her early days of involvement in Deadwood. “I said, ‘holy cow! That’s a lot of money. I better go to that meeting!’ Really, as I followed Gordy down the street I knew nothing about marketing, and I knew nothing about getting involved in a community that was at the ground level, beginning to figure out how they were going to take this new opportunity and make it work. From there, marketing at that level was fascinating.”

Of all the many volunteer hats that she wears, Lalonde said she sees her involvement with the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce as the most enjoyable. The Deadwood Chamber is a vitally important aspect of the community, she said, as it helps to bring people in Deadwood together in support of local business.

“If you have a strong chamber of commerce as a business owner, you have a voice,” she said. “I just see a chamber of commerce that has any merit and guts and is willing to do the work, they’re the ones that make the community a better place. They offer opportunities for people to get engaged, whether it be in business or other learning opportunities, or getting to know other people in your community.”

Taking care of people is what Lalonde does best. At the Saloon No. 10 and Deadwood Social Club, Lalonde said her employees are considered part of her family, and she makes sure that each and every one of them is well taken care of. In fact, it’s the love she has for her employees that led Lalonde to start raising money for the American Cancer Society in the early 1990s. When one of her employees, Bev Cartner contracted breast cancer in her 40s, Lalonde knew she had to do something to help. Since then she has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society by hosting events like the St. Panties Day lingerie style show and auction.

“It was really my first experience where I held somebody’s hand that was dying,” Lalonde said as she remembered her friend and employee. “I spoke with her on a regular basis to see what she needed, and I cried with her and other friends. It taught me that nobody gets a ‘get out of cancer free’ card in the game of life.’”

Lalonde, who had gained experience with style shows by working at a clothing store in downtown Deadwood in her teen years, knew that hosting a show of her own would be a great way to support local boutiques while raising money for cancer research. After throwing some ideas around, a radio announcer suggested “St. Panties Day,” and the blockbuster fundraiser was born. Today, she said the annual event helps to raise between $40,000 to $50,000 a year for the American Cancer Society. Additionally, Lalonde holds back some donated funds in an account that is specifically earmarked to help local cancer patients. The money is used to help transport patients to cancer treatments, or to support those who are suffering with the disease in any way they need.

Then, when Lalonde’s Weimeraner dog, Beaujolais contracted cancer, her compassionate owner began raising about $5,000 a year for the Flint Animal Cancer Center at the University of Colorado in Fort Collins.

Lalonde said she was just getting ready to put on her annual St. Panties Day lingerie style show and auction when COVID-19 began shutting businesses down all over Deadwood. With lingerie and various event prizes hanging all over her office and bathroom, and orders to close her business doors for an undetermined period of time, Lalonde remained ever mindful of her employees and neighbors’ needs. She quickly went to work organizing meals that would be handed out to anyone who needed them.

“When all of this was falling apart and we knew that we were going to be closing, something in my mind was going ‘what about all the people and my own employees?’ There are people who live in my neighborhood who I know don’t have the means to put food on their table if they’re not going to work. Many people in this community live paycheck to paycheck. It’s scary.”

So, Lalonde put a call in to Deadwood Mayor Dave Ruth, with an idea to help feed the people. Working with Dave’s wife, Kerry Ruth, Lalonde was able to rally the businesses of Deadwood to provide sack lunches that would be distributed through the Deadwood Welcome Center, to anyone who needed them.

“Kerry and I partnered, and she was absolutely the best partner I could have ever had,” Lalonde said.

Through the course of the COVID-19 shutdown, that effort evolved to a Feeding South Dakota distribution center, which still actively helps people who are struggling in Deadwood.

“So that was one of those opportunities that I jumped on that was a feel good opportunity,” she said. “I can’t sit at home. I’m not one of those people during COVID who could just stay home and be happy. I gotta be doing something. It was good for me too. It got me out of the house.”

When it comes to owning and operating a business, and serving the people of Deadwood, Lalonde said she always insists that everyone is treated equally. A staunch advocate for equal rights for all people, Lalonde said she always makes it a point to reach across the table to build relationships regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, or other defining characteristics.

“I insist that everyone be treated equally,” she said. “I’m not special. I’m very humble and if it wasn’t for all of the hard work and thought that my parents put into this business, I wouldn’t be where I am. You have to get involved and you have to get out there and create events, and you have to work together. Whether you like the guy across the street or not, you work with him. You develop relationships and friendships, and pretty soon you realize that everybody is doing better.”

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