I read a book recently where one of the characters was constantly coming up with short phrases that he could put on his tombstone to represent his life’s accomplishments. The point, it seemed, was that the phrases kept changing since he continued to accomplish things as his life progressed. As I read about the topic for this column, Ida Anding McNeil, things like “South Dakota state history assistant superintendent,” “Designer of first South Dakota state flag,” and “Broadcast pioneer” were phrases that came to mind that could adorn her tombstone.

Born Sept. 8, 1888, in Winona, Minn., Ida Anding was the daughter of a steamboat engineer. The family moved to Pierre in 1896, and Ida would graduate from high school there in 1906. Following graduation, she got a job as a secretary for Doane Robinson, state historical society superintendent, at the South Dakota Department of History. Ida worked her way up to legislative reference librarian and then assistant superintendent.

During her time working at the South Dakota Department of History, Ida designed what would become the first state flag. It was a flag with an azure background, with a sun prominently displayed, and the words, “South Dakota — the Sunshine State.”

After 15 years working at the Department of History, Ida resigned in 1921. She married Dana McNeil, who worked as a conductor on the Chicago, Northwestern railway. He was also an amateur radio station owner. Ida started broadcasting to him during his railroad runs between Rapid City and Pierre shortly after their wedding, and it wasn’t long before she realized that Dana wasn’t her only listener. This discovery led her in 1923 to develop a format with regular programming, and in 1927, a commercial license was granted to their radio station, KGFX.

In a “Dakota Images” article in a 1981 edition of “SD History,” Rosemary Evetts describes that from 1935, when the full-time weather bureau in Pierre closed, until 1942, Ida provided weather observations and data reporting for the local stockmen on air.

“Ida McNeil believed strongly that the radio station should serve the community, not just provide entertainment,” Evetts writes. “Even after she began selling commercial time in 1932, 70 percent of her air time was still given to public service announcements. Her most publicized program was ‘Hospital News.’ Originally dismayed, the doctors at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Pierre though it was unethical to make public announcements about the status of their patients. Because of the difficulties of communication and transportation in the area, however, the hospital soon realized what a useful service it was and gave complete cooperation.”

Ida received national recognition for her service in 1957 when she received the McCall’s Golden Mike Award, an annual honor given to women in radio and television. She was also recognized by South Dakota State University in 1970 for being a broadcast pioneer, and in 1972, Ida was elected to the South Dakota Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame.

Ida continued with KGFX until selling it when she was 74 years old. She then retired to Rapid City, continuing to be active in community organizations and activities until she passed away in 1974.  

While I couldn’t find any photos of her final resting place to discover what ended up on her tombstone, it’s not the tombstone that sums up the person it represents — rather, their life, and the impact of their actions, are the legacy they leave behind.

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