Local South Dakota Sculptor Refurbishes Kokomo Inn for Gallery
Artist pours creativity into old watering hole
LEMMON, S.D. — A great old bar in a South Dakota border town will not die as expected, though its resurrection as a highfalutin' art gallery will certainly change up its history.
The Kokomo Inn was famous around those parts for decades — it had a cool name and it was the closest bar when 18 was the legal drinking age on the south side of the border and 21 was operative on the North Dakota side.
Who knows how many cans of watery 3.2 Schlitz or Hamms beer were popped open by those young kids with nice farm town manners, some with a hoked-up driver’s license? But it was enough to make mention in the town’s history book, and it was the bar where generations probably sipped their first served beer.
Noni Hoff, 53, of Lemmon, said she did, but that’s not why she remembers the place so fondly. She was good friends with one of the Raba kids — the family that started it back in the '30s — and they ran in the front door on Main Street and out the back to the alley like the joint was a second home.
“It was a place you could just go. Other bars came and went, but it was the one that was always there,” she said. “It was special, a place you could be comfortable in. You didn’t have to dress up.”
The doors closed about eight years ago after the death of the last Raba family member and the building eventually reverted to city ownership. The colorful Kokomo Inn sign painted on the building’s front faded in the west sun and the inside fell to wrack and ruin as rain and snowmelt made their way through the old roof.
Last summer, Lemmon scrap metal sculptor John Lopez got permission from the city to use the building’s exterior as a brick canvas for a mural to go along with turning the adjacent empty lot into “Boss Cowman Square.” The square honors the town’s namesake, Ed Lemmon, famous for managing the largest fenced pasture in the world at 865,000 acres and bossing the single biggest cattle roundup in history.
The mural, painted by Nigerian artists, is a beautiful piece of work and, if the building ever went down, so would it.
Lopez works out of studio near Lemmon and had come to the conclusion that he needed a gallery for his internationally recognized work, a place to showcase his pieces and meet with clients. The Kokomo Inn, dilapidated and beloved, was right there waiting for him.
“Wherever I had a gallery, I wanted it next to a park for landscaping and to create an experience. I didn’t realize it would be the Kokomo,” said Lopez, who acquired the title from the city and went to work.
Turns out “work” is a small word for the gargantuan undertaking the renovations required throughout this past hard winter. He’d hoped to save the roof, but in the end — actually the beginning — it was clear it had to be removed and the building gutted and shored up.
His vision was a place of open, white simplicity, where his sculptures would speak for themselves.
“I want to be taken seriously, so that, when people walk in, they’ll get it,” he said.
He recently completed “Custer’s Last Stand,” which will be his permanent installation at the gallery. It’s been four years in the making from iron and found pieces, including a propane tank, shovel heads, snow chains, plow disks and even a bar stool from the old Kokomo Inn. It’s as complex, detailed and imaginative as any work he’s done. The piece features two life-sized buffalo engaged in mortal conflict, inset with bronzed likenesses of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and Chief Sitting Bull looking toward each other.
The colonel would die that day in 1876 in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and Sitting Bull would ride on into history. Lopez tries to evoke the outcome in the expressions of the men and the stances of the buffalo in which the battle is being played out.
“It goes beyond the gimmick; there’s a story within a story, a sculpture within a sculpture,” he says.
For now, the piece stands out in the prairie near his house, and soon it will be loaded up and moved into the gallery where it will fit the open space. Lopez is keeping the Kokomo Inn name out front — it is iconic in Lemmon and happens to be the actual name of another Indian, Chief Kokomo of the Miami tribe that once populated the lower Great Lakes region. Word is old George Raba took a liking to the name when he came across it in Indiana and it stuck.
It has stuck and withstands the test of time, just as Lopez believes in his sculptures along with his commitment to Lemmon’s history.
While he intends the gallery to be a showroom for his art, he is making one important exception. Canvas paintings by his Nigerian artist friends of mural fame, Jonathan Imafidor and Dotun Popoola, will be for sale in a week-long exhibit starting from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 10 and ending June 17 with live music and other events.
The public is invited. For those, like Hoff, who remember the Kokomo Inn’s heyday so well, it might be a strange transition walking through that door into the past.
“It’s awesome that he saved the building, but it’s hard. It’s like going back to your parent’s house and finding someone remodeled it,” Hoff said.
(Reach Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Faith Sale Barn to Change Hands: End of an Era
FAITH, S.D. – After nearly 57 years of family ownership, Faith Livestock will have new owners beginning in June.
At Monday’s cattle sale, Scott and Gary Vance announced to their loyal customers that things had come together for the sale.
Scott Vance told KBHB this afternoon that they had been contemplating a sale for the past several years.
"We're not leaving the Faith area, but our 10-year plan was always to sell, and we had hoped to several years ago. But, things didn't work out, and now, we just happened to come across two young men willing to purchase, and the time was right."
Those two young men who will take over are Mason Dietterle and Dace Harper.
"Mason is from the Meadow area and Dace graduated right here from Faith," Vance says, "they have roots here."
Vance says he and Gary want to thank everyone they have worked with over the years, and want them to know their customers will be in good hands with Mason and Dace.
"Gary and myself want to thank everyone and all the consignors for the last 57 years and hope they continue to give their support to Faith Livestock and these two young men."
Scott Vance says if everything goes according to plan, the sale could be official by the first sale in June.
F.Ganje - May 16, 2017
FAITH, SD – An eye for good cattle and a strong belief in price discovery the auction way proved to be a good match for both the seller and the buyer, as the Vance family of Faith Livestock Commission Company announced the sale of the business at their May 15th sale.
Standing by and ready to take up the reins are two young cattlemen, born and ranch-raised around the Faith country who are enthusiastic and looking forward to getting started in the auction market business, according to Dace Harper, who along with Mason Dietterle have purchased the market.
“I’ve been an auctioneer for the last seven years, selling in South Dakota, Montana and Nebraska,” shares Harper. “When I heard the market was possibly for sale, I thought I should be involved in it.”
For 57 years, the Vance family in Faith have provided the means for livestock producers to publicly market cattle, sheep and horses. In the almost six decades they have been serving a primarily west river customer base, the originator Lawrence Vance, followed by his son Gary and eventually grandson Scott have seen and experienced historic times in the livestock industry. Both Harper and Dietterle grew up with that as well. Their first place to market cattle was Faith Livestock Commission Company.
“I believe 100 percent in the auction market business,” says Dietterle. “Both of us are young but we’re both hungry and want to get out there and do the best for everybody.”
Plans are for the sale to be complete by the first sale date in June. Well known auctioneer (and Mason’s Dad) Doug Dietterle will be on the block and in the field. The Vance’s strong reputation is expected to lead the way for a smooth transition and the opportunity to lay the groundwork for future growth.
“When you sell cattle at auction,” says Harper, “you know what you’re selling and the buyer knows what they’re buying. For me, as a consignor, I like to bring my cattle to town to showcase what I’ve done. When you’ve got good cattle, it’s nice to show them off.” He adds, “You can price cattle out in the country but nobody is going to give you their highest bid. The only way to get your highest bid is at auction.”