George Bush photo

Remarks at the South Dakota Centennial Celebration in Sioux Falls

September 18, 1989

Good morning, Sioux Falls, and happy birthday, South Dakota! Don't worry, I'm not going to try to sing it. And thanks to the young men of the McCrossan Boys Ranch for the ride in here. Apparently, when Teddy Roosevelt came to Sioux Falls, they called that wagon Buckboard One. [Laughter]

And I especially want to thank Governor and Mrs. Mickelson for that warm welcome back to this State. What a job he's doing for the State of South Dakota. And it's always a pleasure to see my old friend Bill Janklow, who greeted us at the airport, as well as Walter Dale Miller, the Lieutenant Governor of this State, and the fine delegation that represents the Sunshine State in Washington.

I'm delighted to see my friend Larry Pressler here today, very pleased that he's with us. We also would like to say hello to Ben Reifel. I had the privilege of serving in Congress with Ben, a native American who has devoted his whole life to public service. And tomorrow is his 83d birthday, so let's hear it for him. [Applause] And I'm also pleased to see another great United States Senator here -- Montana's, your neighbor's -- Conrad Burns, new Senator, doing a big job. I also want to salute Mr. Ice -- 100-plus and going strong, right over here -- the true spirit of this great State. And also coming out with me from Washington on Air Force One, the former speaker, Deb Anderson, now doing a big job for me and for the country in the White House. She's with us today, too.

And I want to thank these kids who did these essays -- the winning essays -- and then presented them to me earlier on. It's a great thing. I just got a chance to glance at one of the papers, to see these kids looking to the future, see them representing such strong South Dakota principles in such a beautiful way. I think we're lucky to have young people like this in any State.

You know, years ago when I first started thinking about running for President, I went out for a long drive outside Washington to think it over -- alone, and hoping that I'd be sent a sign to help me decide. And sure enough, a sign appeared, and it said, "Only 2,000 miles to Wall Drug." [Laughter]

It is a pleasure to be back with you in South Dakota, home of some of nature's most wonderful creations: the American buffalo, the antelope, the prairie dog, the jack rabbit. The only missing thing today -- the Silver Fox. And Barbara is not with us, unfortunately. [Laughter] But I could get away with calling her that; I'm her husband. [Laughter] It's true. When we went through the receiving line here, several people mentioned her. And she wanted to be here, but she's in the Panhandle of Texas this morning, in Amarillo, at Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, a place not unlike the McCrossan Ranch here. And I know that, like me, she's going to be very interested in reading these essays that these South Dakota kids have put together for us. And again, with talented kids like these and like those down below, your State and mine can look forward to a great second century, and America can look forward to a great tomorrow. I am optimistic about the young people in this country.

Before the turn of the century, when your State was not yet 10 years old, a former Ohio Congressman who had fought for statehood came here to greet the returning heroes of the Spanish-American War, South Dakota volunteers famous throughout America for refusing to abandon their decimated ranks until replacements could be shipped to the Philippines. The ex-Congressman was President McKinley, who praised South Dakota's early pioneers for always setting up three things wherever their wagons stopped: schoolhouses, churches, and the American flag. And McKinley called South Dakota "a new and promising State." And in your first 100 years, you've made good on that promise. You've built a good State, a good place to call home, good place to raise grain and livestock and barns, and, particularly, a good place to raise families. Yours is a people that draws strength and purpose from the land, sinking deep roots, feeding your country, and nurturing the dreams of your children.

And as a new century begins, South Dakota is also a good place for forward-looking people, a place to invest in clean technologies and the growing service industries. South Dakota is one place that has never forgotten what made America great: pride, hard work, neighborliness, self-respect, and respect for others. And as a visitor to Sioux Falls wrote in 1814: "The spirit of the West is one of faith" -- faith in God, faith in country, and faith in one another.

Maybe you've heard the definition of "the real West" in the old cowboy poem: "Out where the hand clasps a little stronger, out where the smile lasts a little longer, that's where the West begins." Well, that's also where South Dakota begins -- still a place where business is done with a handshake most of the time.

Two years after McKinley's visit to Sioux Falls, Teddy Roosevelt became the youngest President in the United States history and the only one of this century to be enshrined at Mount Rushmore. Everyone knows which four Presidents are found on that mountain. Less well-known is that each was chosen not to represent an individual but rather to represent an American ideal. Washington represents freedom; Jefferson, democracy; Lincoln for equality; and Roosevelt, conservation. In the American galaxy of ideas, conservation is rarely ranked up there alongside freedom, democracy, and equality. But it is on Mount Rushmore, and it is in South Dakota. And it's time that that tradition was rekindled everywhere.

Our stewardship of the Earth is brief. South Dakota sits atop beds of oil and coal that eons ago were tropical swamps. Above ground, the landscape is cut by hills and valleys and shaped by the huge sheets of ice that covered this land in a later age. When the glaciers retreated, they left behind a precious resource: the rich, fertile soil of South Dakota. No one here who witnessed the black blizzards of the 1930's Dust Bowl needs to be told just how fragile that resource is or how important it is that we be responsible stewards of these gifts.

And what is true for our farmlands is also true for our forests and rivers and for our oceans and for the oceans of life-giving air that cover this planet. Earlier this year, we introduced dramatic new proposals to strengthen the Clean Air Act, calling for major reductions in acid rain and urban smog and other toxic emissions. And I said then that our mission is not just to defend what's left but to take the offense, to improve our environment across the board. It's not enough to stop dirtying the air; we've got to clean it up. And to help do that, we should remember the oldest, cheapest, and most efficient air purifier on Earth: trees.

Nature has powerful rejuvenative forces, but we need to help them along. We need to reforest this bountiful land. As the settlers here learned decades ago, planting trees can greatly reduce erosion from wind and water. And as we are learning, tree-planting can help clean the air by reducing carbon dioxide. For its centennial year, your sister State to the north has pledged to plant 100 million new trees by the year 2000. Well, I've heard it said around Sioux Falls: Anything North Dakota can do, South Dakota can do better.

So, I challenge you to come up with a pledge of your own to join the new greening of America by foresting South Dakota with centennial trees. And of course, reforestation is only one part of our comprehensive and sometimes highly technical proposals to clean up America's air. But trees possess a value that no high-tech solution will ever match: Trees can reduce the heat of a summer's day, quiet a highway's noise, feed the hungry, provide shelter from the wind and warmth in the winter.

You see, the forests are the sanctuaries not only of wildlife but also of the human spirit. And every tree is a compact between generations. The White House today is blessed by a tree planted by John Quincy Adams; the southern magnolias of Andrew Jackson; Dwight Eisenhower's trees -- oaks, I believe. George Washington's home at Mount Vernon is still shaded by a dozen trees planted by our first President, a living link to our roots as a nation and to the giant whose face adorns the Black Hills of this State.

Of course, not every President is blessed with a green thumb. Five months ago, I planted an elm to mark North Dakota's new campaign. It turned out they have some kind of moth disease. [Laughter] So, in the interest of public safety here in Sioux Falls, they specifically asked me not to dedicate a building. [Laughter] Well, so far, my luck in this tree business is about like -- as I had in fishing. [Laughter]

Just as the Government has a key responsibility in reducing air pollution, the Government can also act as a model and leader in the greening of America -- and it has. Last year, Federal efforts planted 340,000 acres of new trees. But that's only about the size of Lincoln County. Private efforts and families and businesses planted eight times that number -- enough to blanket an area almost the size of the State of Connecticut. And clearly, the real solution is at the grassroots level -- Americans joining to shade this land and to clean our air, a new spirit of activism and voluntarism to serve each other and save our planet.

The paper here last month said that today there are exactly 28,334 trees in the city of Sioux Falls. Now, first of all, I'd like to meet the guy who counted the last 334 trees right here in Sioux Falls. [Laughter] But seriously, a people that counts its trees so carefully knows how to value them. Each one makes a difference, and so can each one of you.

And as we commemorate the year South Dakota became a new star in the American flag -- the American constellation, if you will -- I hope that every family in the State will become part of yet another constellation, a constellation that we've called 1,000 Points of Light, because you in South Dakota know what it takes to plant a tree. It doesn't take a Federal program. It doesn't take a great big Washington bureaucracy. And it sure doesn't take some fancy new study. What it takes is a shovel. And it's a family project, you can do it in your own homes, literally in your own backyards. And we can cultivate good character in our kids by cultivating cleaner environment.

We need to plant new hedgerows around croplands, new windbreaks around our homes and towns. And in the middle of this century, we built the interstate highway system, the greatest ground transportation network since Rome. And now let's make these corridors beautiful, quieter, greener, and cleaner.

On the plains of Texas, where for 12 years Barbara and I raised our children, the story is told of a pioneer tradition that said, "Plant plums for yourself, pecans for your grandchildren." A hundred years ago, some farsighted Texas settlers planted these tiny pecan seedlings, and it took hours of backbreaking work, hauling water in the hot prairie sun. But pecan trees take many years to mature, and the settlers themselves would never live to enjoy shade or food from the trees. It was called, therefore, a grandchildren's grove. Other settlers -- well, they wanted quick results, and they planted the fast, quick-growing plum trees. And for a few years, they got good fruit. Soon, the soft bark split, sprouting tangled, barren plum bushes. And instead of enjoying the protection of these tall stately pecan trees, the grandchildren who followed were saddled with the hardship of clearing a thicket.

It is planting time now for your great State, for South Dakota and for America and for all of spaceship Earth. The choices that we make today can either nurture and protect our children or bequeath them only another generation of thickets and foul air. So, let us tap into the greatness of the American spirit. Let us honor the pioneers who gave us this State by giving back to generations yet to come. And 100 years from now, South Dakota will still be a good place to raise children, cottonwood trees, and other precious living things. Enjoy this celebration; enjoy the autumn ahead.

Good luck, God bless you, God bless the State of South Dakota. And thank you for inviting me. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. in the Sioux Falls Arena. In his opening remarks, he referred to former Gov. William J. Janklow; Senator Larry Pressler; and Debra R. Anderson, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs.

George Bush, Remarks at the South Dakota Centennial Celebration in Sioux Falls Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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