YANKTON, SD--Maybe it's a symptom of growing older, but the more things change in my life, the more I look for things that haven't.Matt Epp channels his Dad's childhood near Yankton's Riverside Park.There is comfort in returning to places and seeing what HASN'T changed.
The feeling is like always wanting to wear the same old pair of sneakers, or the same old college sweatshirt, or sitting in the same old beat up easy chair in front of the TV. Maybe there are better things out there, but what I remember is still best.For communities, I think this is called a "sense of place." As we rush to "develop" our communities, the old buildings, the old haunts, even, sometimes, the people are moved out for "progress.
".Much of the time, it is good. Sometimes not. But it always results in change.
From 1959 to 1976, I lived in Yankton, SD. Perhaps as much or more than any community in South Dakota , it has kept its sense of place. On a trip to Yankton this weekend for a soccer tournament with my ten year old Matt, that was highly comforting. It was also fun to be with him as he got a taste of what I experienced in the Yankton area as a boy as well.
Yankton has grown and developed in the 29 years since I left. North Broadway is now full of retail businesses and restaurants from the Yankton Mall to the Human Services Center . Before, much of that were open fields. Some of the development is good, some is junky. Wal-Mart built a Super Center across from HSC; there is a new housing subdivision to its west as well as a new municipal golf course.But what hasn't changed is what gives Yankton, one of the oldest communities in South Dakota, its character.
First, there's the architecture. Downtown Yankton, particularly 3d Street , looks much as I remember it as a kid. Some of the businesses have changed but the buildings have been restored.
Great old stone buildings like the Johnson, Heidepriem law office at 3d and Walnut and another old building just down the street remain and are in use. They have wonderful architectural flourishes that you don't find on the strip mall boxes we now build.There's the goofy Boston Shoe sign, still hanging on the same building. I always loved that sign.
Yankton's historic Meridian BridgeThere's the Meridian Bridge, history that is still in use, at least until the new bridge over the Missouri is built. One of the first bridges breaching the Mighty Mo in South Dakota , the eighty year old bridge is the visual anchor for the community.Just west of the bridge, when I was about Matt's age, my dad and his friend told me and the other dad's son to jump out of the fishing boat we were in and the see what we should do if we ever swamped.
(We had life jackets on.) It was terrifying at the time but a good story now. The Missouri is a river full of currents and eddies not to be messed with.Yankton still has wonderful access to water. Riverside Park has docks and shelters and paths. People still boat the Missouri from there.
Gavin's Point Dam and Lewis and Clark Lake from the Visitor's Center on the bluffLewis and Clark Lake is the other signature. As a kid, I took for granted the ability to get in the car and in ten minutes or so be on an isolated area of water or shore and fish, boat, hike, camp, swim, or just sit and think. Where the Visitor Center now sits on Calumet Bluff just downstream from the Gavin's Point Dam, we would run up the steep hill where it now sits and enjoy the views up and down the lake and river. We felt like Lewis and Clark. Matt got the more modern version of that by peering out the massive windows in the Center and using the telescopes. But he was just as captivated by the view at age ten as I was at his age.
After Saturday's games, Matt and a number of his buddies went swimming at the Weigand Campground on the Nebraska side of Lewis and Clark. Like me 35 years ago, he swam, looked for shells, got in a wet sand fight, then ate hotdogs and ran around the campground. That was my childhood in Yankton in a nutshell. Fun, carefree, around water. Matt Epp and his buddies swim in Lewis and Clark Lake on the Nebraska side.
Other little things have stayed constant. You can still go to the Ice House and drink a beer in your car. Or better yet, you can sit on the loading dock, throw your beer cap in the parking lot and smash your bottle under the dock.
My father loved going here with his buddies as a young adult. I understand why now.Dick and Louise Anderson still own The Pantry on 3d Street, one of the first gourmet food and cooking stores in South Dakota .
Dick was my English and journalism teacher at Yankton High School and he is STILL teaching. I learned more from him than any single teacher I've had in my life. He instilled a love of writing in me. Now that is continuity.Other things: Even though I'm not a Catholic, the cathedral spiral at Mount Mary College was always a reference point that I was getting close to home.
Tripp Park survived the Sunshine onslaught. I still get the willies going over the top deck of the Meridian Bridge. Stewart Elementary School, the scene of so many of my playground football and kickball victories, still stands.
Maybe I'm becoming a sentimental old man. All I know is this. Two days in Yankton recharged my psychic batteries. The connection with "home," even it is no longer home, the sense of place, the power of memories, the making of new ones, is a powerful salve.Thank you Yankton for changing, but not so much you've lost your soul and sense of place.
It is a Mother City of the Dakotas in more ways than one..Todd D.
Epp, a native of Yankton, SD, is an attorney in Harrisburg, SD and editor of S.D. Watch (http://thunewatch.squarespace.
By: Todd Epp