Five Questions with Bernie DeWald
Though there isn’t an official record, Bernie DeWald is likely the longest-serving volunteer for the Chamber of Commerce. He held many volunteer positions for the Chamber, most notably he was an Ambassador for 55 years and served as Chair of the Board of Directors. Other community groups that benefited from Bernie’s time and talents included Downtown Rotary, Junior Achievement, and the St. Michael’s Cemetery. One of the things Bernie is most proud of is the work he did with a small group of other community leaders to create and launch the Festival of Bands in Sioux Falls. Bernie retired from McKinneyOlson Insurance after nearly six decades in the insurance industry. He and his wife Rose have two children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
1. Why do you choose to volunteer your time for the Chamber?
When I started my job in 1960, my employer encouraged me to get involved in the community. Service was kind of in my DNA. My motor runs about 24 hours a day, and I like being involved in a lot of things. So, volunteering was a way to meet people and learn about businesses that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
2. What do you think is the most valuable aspect of membership in the Chamber?
The Chamber provides a lot of information that you might not be aware of otherwise. Speaking as a former business owner, we relied on the Chamber to hear and speak for us on things that might impact the business when it came to legislative affairs or local government. The Chamber is a collective voice for the members, and that is so valuable.
Also, the best way to meet people is through the Chamber. For many years, I never missed a Mixer!
3. In your opinion, what is one of the most significant changes in our community in the last 10 years?
I think we are seeing people from outside the region beginning to realize that Sioux Falls is an all-around good place to be. We have a great police force, we have the best school systems, our workforce is strong. The new people and new businesses moving here have changed us – and the growth is good!
4. Name a tool could you not live without. Why?
It is not exactly a tool, but I’d have to say the gym. I’ve been a regular at the gym for decades. First it was the downtown YMCA…I went there for 52 years until they closed! Now, I go to the Avera Fitness Center on Southeastern. I’m there a minimum of five times a week. It’s a healthy habit and a positive way to start my day.
5. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Early on, when I was just starting out, the three owners of the company told me, “If you work hard and do a good job, we’ll make you a partner.” So, I did…and they did. This was both advice and opportunity. And following it set the course for my professional life.
6. What might someone be surprised to learn about you?
After high school I served in the Army. I was stationed at the Panama Canal for 18 months. After leaving full-time service, I was in the National Guard for a few years. In 1961, during a training exercise near Platte, South Dakota, our vehicle with eight guys in it rolled multiple times down into the flats. I was lucky to survive that, and have had a steel pin in my femur ever since.
7. How did you choose your profession?
By accident! I never thought I would be a salesman. But my first job was an office staff member writing policies and doing administrative tasks. As I started meeting people through community involvement, I started selling policies on the side. After 10 years in the office staff role, my boss asked me if I’d like to sell fulltime. I decided to do it. I really enjoyed selling. Entering the insurance industry was the best choice for me.
8. What is something you are optimistic about?
I haven’t been able to golf very well for the last couple summers due to back troubles. But I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to be on the course again this summer!
9. How do you describe the Sioux Falls area to people who don’t live here?
Sioux Falls is amazing. It is probably the friendliest city in the whole country. You can meet people and they remember you and treat you as a friend. It is safe place with great schools. We have strong nonprofits doing good work for the community. I never want to live anywhere else.
10. What do you think is one of the biggest challenges facing our community today? And how should we tackle it?
Our labor force is always a challenge. The number of “we’re hiring” signs we see lately is evidence. It is an issue that people are trying to address but there isn’t an easy fix.