Two NH residents, one school group honored for ‘Acts of Excellence’

Pictured is the 2019 Spearfish High School We the People team. The team, coached by Pat Gainey, was recognized by the S.D. Hall of Fame for performing Acts of Excellence. Pioneer file photo

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NORTHERN HILLS — Spearfish resident Elaine Doll-Dunn does not live her life to receive recognition or fame. But the woman whose adventurous spirit frequently rubs off on all who know her is among three honored residents and groups to be recognized by the S.D. Hall of Fame for performing Acts of Excellence.

“I live my life happily and fun,” she said. “I love adventure, and I love people. I try to live joyfully and if it moves someone else, that’s a plus. I just set out to make a difference and do the best I can.”

That’s how John Andrews, the second honoree for Acts of Excellence, feels. Andrews, who was given the same honor for his role in working to develop treatments for the COVID-19 pandemic, said he is just doing his job.

“I’m surprised, and I am humbled by it, actually,” Andrews, who is known around family, friends and neighbors in the Lead community as “Doctor John,” said. “To me, this is my job and to receive that recognition was unexpected and quite an honor.”

The third recipient of this year’s S.D. Hall of Fame Acts of Excellence honor went to Pat Gainey and students in the Spearfish High School “We the People” program. The group was nominated for representing South Dakota at the national “We the People” competition for 20 straight years.

“I am thrilled,” Gainey, who has coached the team for 22 years, said about the honor. “It’s nice to get some recognition for the program.  I’m happy to say that it’s been a priority for our school and our district. We take civic education seriously in Spearfish.”

While all of this year’s recipients were nominated for very different achievements and contributions to the people of South Dakota, they share a commonality in their commitment to work to improve the lives of those around them. That’s what the S.D. Hall of Fame honor is all about, and that’s why 2014 inductee Terry Woster submitted their names for the honor.

According to its website, “The South Dakota Hall of Fame champions a culture of excellence in South Dakota by honoring the impact of individual excellence, one act at a time; and inspiring young people to chase their dreams; while all striving to improve the quality of our lives in South Dakota.”

Doll-Dunn has become well known in the Northern Hills community as a marathoner, a teacher, and an adventurer — having run at least 125 marathons, climbed Mount Killimanjaro in Africa, raced for 60 miles across Panama, and walked 125 miles along the Camino de Santiago trail in Europe, as well as mentored hundreds of students in her 30 years as an educator in public school and in the university system. In his nomination, Woster wrote, “She says she doesn’t really go looking for things to do. Her life’s pursuit of excellence is a model for anyone to follow.”

“We all have a right to live our best life and that is different things to different people,” Doll-Dunn said. “The comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there. Don’t be afraid to live.”

Andrews moved to Lead from North Carolina in search of a milder climate, near family, where he could retire. The virologist and microbiologist who was instrumental in helping to develop drugs for HIV/AIDS and Ebola treatment, soon found himself working once again to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Since he has been here he has become known as “Doc John” to his neighbors and friends who are familiar with his work, as well as by readers of the Black Hills Pioneer, for which he writes a regular column about his work with the pandemic.

“His involvement on the front line of response to a medical crisis illustrates that excellence can be found in any community and that living in South Dakota is no barrier to being involved in global issues,” Woster wrote in his nomination.

Andrews was involved in developing the drug remdesivir, which has been recently highlighted on a global scale. Originally developed to fight Ebola, the drug is now being successfully used to treat COVID-19 patients.

“We know that drug works to prevent the progression of the disease and we now know that it also helps to improve survival,” Andrews said. “So it’s a very significant drug.”

The consistency and dedication of the students who participate in Gainey’s “We the People” team each year are what captured Woster’s attention when he nominated this school group for an Act of Excellence.

“About 1,200 students from 56 high schools across the nation participate in the national competition,” Woster wrote. “The consistency and dedication the Spearfish students have shown over 20 years of competing certainly is a clear example of a quest for excellence.”

Gainey said the “We the People” program is a curriculum that ais sponsored by the Center for Civic Education and designed to give students an in-depth understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. A highly supported course at Spearfish High School, Gainey said he usually has about two-dozen students in the class each year. Every year the students take their Constitutional knowledge to a state and regional competition, where they prepare a presentation based on questions related to the curriculum. When the students represent South Dakota at the national competition, they travel to our nation’s Capitol.

“As long as I am teaching at Spearfish High School we are going to be involved in this program,” Gainey said. “I think it’s really important.”

Gainey added that the success of the program is largely credited to the Spearfish community. The generosity of local civic groups, the school system, and citizens have made it possible for all students involved to make the trip to Washington D.C., regardless of their ability to pay. The trip to Washington D.C., he said, is a major incentive for the kids to join the team and work hard throughout the year to learn about this important part of American history.

“The whole idea of school and community support is really important with this because a lot of times schools have trouble implementing the program because it is pricey and it takes a lot of work,” he said. “But I am really grateful to the community and the district for supporting it.” 

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