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Our History

An Organizational History of the South Dakota Right to Life Committee

By Mrs. Ruth Karim, April 1988


South Dakota Right to Life began on September 1, 1971, when Mrs. Kathleen Barthel of Rapid City was asked by Knights of Columbus State Deputy Dan Lesmeister to serve as acting director with a budget of $500, donated by the South Dakota K.C.’s.


A statewide news release was issued in an effort to stimulate contacts with persons interested in the pro-life movement.  First to respond were Pierre, Sioux Falls and Brookings all of which had formed area groups within six months.

The first area Right to Life group was founded in the Capital City, Pierre, which is located in the geographical center of South Dakota.  In December, 1971, East and West were brought together at a Pierre Area Right to Life meeting, where Mrs. Barthel was guest speaker. A delegation of three from Brookings attended to discuss the mechanics of a statewide organization.  


On June 29, 1972, Articles of Incorporation were filed in the office of the Secretary of State, concluding an organizational meeting held at the Pierre National Bank Community Room in Pierre.  Approximately 30 persons, representing several South Dakota cities, attended the meeting. Incorporators were Mrs. Kathleen Barthel, Rapid City, president; Dale Larson, Brookings, treasurer; and Mrs. Ruth Karim, Pierre, secretary.  Other cities represented were: Sioux Falls and Yankton.


By-laws and Articles of Incorporation, fashioned primarily after those of Minnesota and North Dakota, were adopted providing considerable control over activities performed in the name of South Dakota Right to Life Corporation (SDRLC).

South Dakota Right to Life grew rapidly.  On July 29, 1972, the first Annual Meeting and convention of SDRLC was held at the Falcoln Café in Pierre with 82 persons from 19 communities registered.  At this meeting the board of directors was expanded to six persons; and each director was assigned an area of responsibility, including membership, information, legislative action, education, finance, and funding.  New board members were Denny Becker, Sioux Falls; James Hare, Pierre; and John Moriarty, Brookings.


South Dakota Right to Life published its first Newsletter in October, 1972, to coincide with “Pro-Life Month in South Dakota,” as proclaimed by Governor Richard Kneip.  20,000 copies of the first issue were circulated through churches of all denominations and through a direct mailing list. Intentions were to publish a monthly Newsletter with approximately 10,000 circulation.


In addition to the Newsletter during its first year, South Dakota Right to Life distributed 21 press releases to daily and weekly newspapers throughout the state, not including publicity handled by area groups on local activities.


When the South Dakota Legislature convened in January, 1973, South Dakota Right to Life was well enough organized to take an active part in informing legislators on the pro-life issue.  Persons from all parts of the state came at various times to personally lobby on the human life issue.


By June, 1973, 27 towns had organizations or contact persons working actively with South Dakota Right to Life.  Volunteers numbered at least 4,000.


The main function of area groups was to conduct educational programs and disseminate pro-life information in their communities.  The state was divided into four regions, with one state director serving as a resource person in each of the regions. In some regions, coordinators were appointed to assist in regional development.


South Dakota Right to Life Corporation held its Second Annual Meeting July 28-29 in Watertown.  By that time it was expected that the board of directors would have been expanded again.


The major problem, as viewed by the state president, was that “South Dakota Right to Life grew faster than its organizational capabilities and financial resources.”  A statewide fundraising effort was planned with the hope that enough donations would be obtained to make the organization self-sustaining.


On May 14, 1973, a state office was opened in South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls; and a part-time coordinator was hired.  This step was intended to improve intraorganizational communication and to bring about a higher degree of efficiency in organizational work.  


In December, 1976, the State Office was moved to Pierre because of its central location and the volume of work connected with annual legislative sessions held in Pierre.  Office space was donated by the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary’s convent. The bookkeeping system was revised, and publication for the Newsletter was transferred to Pierre in April, 1977.  Office operation was under the direction of then SDRLC President Ruth Karim, who was later appointed Executive Secretary. Staff included two other positions: Office secretary and membership clerk each working 20 hours per week.  Volunteers also assisted.


In 1974 the state was divided into 12 geographical districts for organizational purposes, with each district to be represented by at least one director, elected by delegates from the chapters in that district.  


In 1982, the By-Laws were revised to allow all SDRLC members to vote for directors.


In 1984, South Dakota Right to Life corporation was dissolved and a new corporation, the South Dakota Right to Life committee was formed as a 501-c-4 organization, with an internal 501-c-3 education fund.


In 1986, districts were redesignated as “regions” to avoid confusion with legislative district designations.


In December 1987 the State Office moved from the hospital complex to 366 ½ S. Pierre Street.  Staff remained at 3 persons, with the office secretary increasing to 40 hours per week, and Vivian Lowenstein becoming Bookkeeper as well as Membership Clerk.

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