Land-grant university presidents in the Dakotas sometimes have a rough go of it.
Former North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman left under a cloud of suspicion about extravagant spending. Current NDSU President Dean Bresciani has been besieged by critics who say he is arrogant and doesn’t understand North Dakota.
But South Dakotans seem to love South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn.
It’s easy to see why.
Dunn is a former Mission, S.D., rancher and SDSU Extension livestock specialist.
When Curt Arens, field editor for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer, attended a Southeast Experiment Farm field day several years ago, he ended up sitting on a straw bale on the tour trailer next to Dunn. They swapped stories about picking rocks.
“He’s pretty neat guy,” Arens said.
Here is another story about Dunn:
When students in Washington High School’s Native American Studies class wrote Dunn — a member of the Rosebud Lakota tribe — letters congratulating him on being named the president of SDSU, Dunn was moved to tears and scheduled a visit to the class.
“He brought Barry Berry ice cream and SDSU T-shirts,” said Bruce Rekstad, Native America Studies teacher at Washington High School.
Dunn made the trip from Brookings to the Sioux Falls high school without an entourage. When Dunn arrived, some of the boys from the class went out and helped him carry in the ice cream and T-shirts.
The ninth through 12th graders loved Dunn’s visit, Rekstad said.
“First of all they found out it’s Dr. Barry Dunn, but he said call him, ‘Barry.’ They found out how humble he is. In a way, he is quite common. He doesn’t like to speak to crowds. He’s real honest. He became a grandfather to the students.”
During the question and answer session with the class, Megan Hudecek, a senior, raised her hand and said, “I’m going to be going to South Dakota State next year, and I’m Native American.”
“Can I stop you right there?” Dunn said. “Come to my office when you get to campus, and we’ll talk.”
“What president of a large university would say that, and mean that?” Rekstad asked.
Dunn followed up his visit by inviting Rekstad and his students to the SDSU presidential inauguration in September.
At the post inaugural reception, the students surprised Dunn with a Washington Warrior star quilt and wrapped him in it.
“He officially became a Warrior,” Rekstad said.
Dunn was overwhelmed.
“The star quilt, which symbolizes bringing the recipient into their family, was a total surprise and certainly one of the highlights of my life. I am now a Warrior, and I couldn’t be more proud,” he said.
Dunn returned to Washington High School recently. He told the Native American Studies class about his Wokini Initiative.” Wokini is Lakota for “new life” or “new beginnings.” Dunn proposes to create programming and support for those citizens of the nine tribal nations in South Dakota interested in gaining access to educational and advancement opportunities at SDSU. He also aims to enhance research and outreach collaborations and programs with tribes, tribal colleges and other tribal organizations.
And the high school senior Dunn invited to come to his office and speak to him when she arrived on campus?
Hudecek recently completed her freshman year at SDSU and is looking forward to being a sophomore. She is a member of the orchestra.
Dave Graves originally told the story of Barry Dunn’s visit to Washington High School in the Winter 2017 issue of State, the SDSU alumni magazine.