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McGovern Legacy Museum: an enlightening South Dakota surprise

We stumble into the McGovern Legacy Museum in Mitchell, South Dakota for a little history on George McGovern, South Dakota's favorite politician...


“You should check out the McGovern Library,” said the smiley grey-bearded man outside the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.

“Huh?” I said.

“Well, if you guys are doing this road trip to fight hunger, it would fit in perfectly. That was a big thing for him,” he replied.

“And where is this place?”

“Just up the road there.”

To be honest, stopping by a politician’s library wasn’t top on my list of sightseeing stops for this day of the 2016 MINI Takes the States, but there’s never a better time to visit something than when you’re near it.

That’s how I ended up at the McGovern Library and its surprisingly moving McGovern Legacy Museum on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University, his alma mater where he later also taught.

McGovern Museum South Dakota outside

Walking in the door, I realized I didn’t really know much about George McGovern. I was born in 1986, some 14 years before his presidential bid. The main reason I knew he ran for president? His mention in the Charlie Daniels song, “Uneasy Rider.” Some student of history I am...

I figured with all the craziness that is the 2016 presidential race, I could use a little education on the Democratic nominee from another era when politics seemed to be a supreme mess. (i.e. Vietnam & Watergate)

Of course, any politicians’ library is going to be a little “pro-that-guy,” but the passage of time seems to sometimes help clarify the true heart and passions of our political servants. The McGovern Legacy Museum captures the man, his family, and his personal passions so well, I couldn’t help but be a little moved by his life story.

While remembered by most for taking a massive shellacking from Nixon in their presidential matchup, his life of public service turned out to be so much more than just his failed attempt at being our commander and chief.

A minister’s son, McGovern graduated from Dakota Wesleyan University in 1946, with a break in his studies to go be a war hero. McGovern flew B-24s in Europe, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his 35 combat missions.

After the war and graduation, he went to seminary for a year then earned advanced degrees in American history and government in Chicago. He returned to his alma mater to teach, but by the late 1950s, the people of South Dakota came calling. They tapped the leader to represent them in Congress from 1956-1960.

He took a shot at the Senate in 1960, but was unsuccessful.

After McGovern lost his first bid for the U.S. Senate in 1960, President John F. Kennedy named him the first director of the Food for Peace Program and Special Assistant to the President. In this position he oversaw the donation of millions of tons of food to developing nations. McGovern was then elected to the Senate in 1962, and reelected in 1968 and 1974. As a member of the Senate committees on agriculture, nutrition, forestry and foreign relations, and the Joint Economic Committee, he led the way in expanding key nutrition programs.

As a Senator, McGovern became one of the nations most outspoken critics of the war in Vietnam. In retrospect, McGovern correctly warned Americans of the many heartbreaking consequences of a war that would cost the country so many of its finest young men.

His liberal antiwar and anti-poverty messages did find some footing, getting him 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, but he lost decidedly to President Nixon. (And we all know how his second term ended…)

After his presidential defeat, McGovern served in various political roles, wrote multiple books, and spoke around the world. His enduring life’s work: feeding the hungry children around the world, a fitting cause from a man from a state rich with farming heritage.

Whether you lean to the left or the right, I believe anyone can respect a man who devoted his entire life to not only his country, but his world.

I walked away from the McGovern Legacy Museum feeling inspired again… Inspired that some politicians, whether I agree with their policies or not, seek office not for fame and power but to sincerely tackle the problems of the world.

While McGovern Legacy Museum may not be quite as flashy as the massive kernel-covered Corn Palace, I’m so glad the friendly local man pointed me to it.

McGovern Legacy Museum in Mitchell, South Dakota

1200 W University Ave

Mitchell, SD 57301



Our South Dakota adventures were part of a crazy, awesome road trip called MINI Takes the States. For 2 weeks, MINI owners rallied across the country hitting up cities like Green Bay, race tracks, and everything in between. We had the pleasure of driving both a MINI S convertible and a MINI John Cooper Works, both with 6-speed manual transmissions. It’s pretty much the most fun you’ll ever have.

The best part? The whole trip raised over 1,000,000 meals in partnership with Feeding America. Learn more here.

More from 2016 MTTS:


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