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Innovative Community Efforts Showcased During Upcoming Energize! Conference in Lemmon

Originally authored by Kenneth Sherin, former SDSU Extension Community Vitality Program Director.

BROOKINGS, S.D. – A Chislic Festival in Freeman, a unique charity-focused music venue in Spearfish, and a grassroots effort bringing new ideas to Highmore, are three community development success stories occurring around the state. How have they done it and what can other communities learn and apply from these efforts? Community leaders and individuals are invited to attend the upcoming Energize! Conference being held April 30 - May 1, 2019 in Lemmon, to find out.

The Energize! Conference is coordinated by SDSU Extension Community Vitality Team and the community of Lemmon. The conference will feature more than a dozen presenters covering topics focused on people, money/funding, business and young adults.

Josh Hofer of Freeman, Ben Schnaible of Spearfish and Beth Simonson of Highmore will be among the program presenters sharing their experiences in bringing innovative ideas to their communities.

Additionally, Wall mayor Marty Huether will share how his community includes high school students on their Wall Economic Development Corporation board of directors. Two Wall students serving on the board will also be presenters at the event.

Relatable experiences from South Dakota communities


Hofer, who established the Chislic Festival in his hometown of Freeman in 2018, will highlight the steps he took from the initial idea to holding the actual event, and how he involved others along the way. Additionally, with planning underway for the second annual Chislic Festival on July 27, 2019, Hofer will share how Freeman is planning to grow and enhance the event.

“I hope people come away with a better understanding of how to come up with their own ideas and take action,” said Hofer, who has a background in development and marketing. He will also highlight how storytelling can elevate community marketing efforts.


Schnaible will share how the Spearfish non-profit organization Spread the Tunes, Inc. is raising awareness and funds for local organizations through community and musical events. Spread the Tunes was established five years ago with a focus on hosting a six-week summer Canyon Acoustic Series at the Spearfish City Park.

Attendance during the summer series is free and family-oriented, with funds raised through sponsorships, concessions and vendors. Proceeds benefit Spearfish’s D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery – and totaled $20,000 in the last two years. Additionally, the organization hosts other ticketed events with a musical component throughout the year, and proceeds from those functions benefit other designated charities and organizations.

Schnaible, who serves as event coordinator for Spread the Tunes, will discuss how their grass-roots organization operates and has grown to be successful to benefit local community needs. He believes it’s a format other communities could model as well.


As a Highmore business owner, Beth Simonson will highlight how she became involved with community marketing – in spite of her self-described shy personality. Simonson and her husband John own and operate the Hydeout Bed and Breakfast. Simonson credits the SDSU Extension Marketing Hometown America program, which was hosted in Highmore a few years ago, for motivating her. 

While she was not involved in those initial meetings, Simonson says as the Marketing Hometown America group got established, it spurred her to also get involved. 


“As a business owner, you need to be involved in the community, and each person can make a difference.”

— Highmore business owner, Beth Simonson

Highmore does not have paid Chamber or Economic Development staff, but Simonson is proud to report community volunteers are digging in and promoting their community through events, a website and collaboration. As an example, a group of Highmore citizens worked together to reinvigorate the Hyde County Fair, which was contemplating combining with another county.

 “The fair could have left our community, but we brought businesses and 4-H leadership together and we’ve expanded our fair from one day to two days,” Simonson said.

Simonson hopes other communities will learn from her presentation how important community involvement is to solve issues and plan for the future.

“One person can help make a difference,” Simonson said.


Wall’s Mayor Huether underscores the importance of including youth perspectives in community planning. For the past four years, Wall has included two high school students on their Economic Development Corporation.

“They are not just student representatives, they are board members. We want them to contribute ideas and debate issues in our community. They are our future citizens, so we want to hear their perspective,” Huether said.

Huether and current Wall student board members Mercede Hess and Andrew Law will share their experiences during a breakout session at the Energize! Conference.

Other topics discussed during the two-day conference will include rural healthcare, housing, growing a business in a rural community and more.

The keynote speaker will be Nebraska native Brent Comstock, who at 23-years-old is an entrepreneur, speaker and venture capitalist. Comstock has been involved with numerous rural businesses and champions engaging youth in rural initiatives.

Register by April 18

Regular registration for the conference is $90, with registration closing April 18. A special $40 rate is being offered for attendees under age 21 by using the promo code YOUTH. Register online for the Energize Conference on the Events page and search by Energize! Conference.