We visit Steve’s mom’s hometown – Yankton, SD

We had two weeks to kill before the WIT (Winnebago International Travelers) Club Grand National Rally in Iowa, so we made a slight detour and pointed Betsy toward Yankton, South Dakota.  This stop had several areas of significance for us: (1)Yankton is Steve’s mom’s hometown (2)South Dakota is the 43rd state we’ve visited and (3) Betsy had finally parked in our state of residency!

Yankton, South Dakota

Steve’s parents were from South Dakota.  His dad was from Sioux Falls and his mom from Yankton.  Some of his grandparents and great-grandparents had settled in Yankton, coming from Denmark in the early 1900’s.  Great-grandma Larsen lived to 102 years old, and her daughter, Steve’s grandma McElwain, made it to 99 – passing away in 2008.  Although he hadn’t been here since then, Yankton has grown significantly.  Incredibly, both of their homes still stand:

We were also able to re-connect with Steve’s second cousin Jim, who has lived in Yankton all his life with his wife Lynn and some of their family.  Our dinner at Jim and Lynn’s beautiful log home was spent reminiscing about the family’s past.  We were excited to look through Lynn’s excellent scrapbook full of family photos and stories.  Thank you for your hospitality, Jim and Lynn!

Jim invited us to the annual Tractor Drive Parade that happened during our stay.  He drove his beautifully-restored John Deere tractor, and 200 other folks also went through downtown on their antique tractors from the participating states of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

That’s Jim on his brand-new-looking John Deere. These folks are serious about their tractors!

We had “front row” seats, and Steve obviously enjoyed the show – as he does anything displaying mechanical things.  The oldest tractor we saw was a McCormick Farmall built in 1946 (and still running).  We had a great time!

This would be a good town for Betsy to get stuck in the mud!

Tractor Ride, Yankton SD

Jim and Lynn dropped by for a visit at our campground, and we shared our stories of life on the road.  They had traveled extensively for years on a motorcycle, so we had lots to talk about.

On another day we drove out to the nearby city of Vermillion, where the University of South Dakota is located.  We walked around the beautiful campus and admired the building architecture.  A couple of tidbits – Tom Brokaw and the famous Noble-prize winning physicist E.O. Lawrence both graduated from this university, and Steve’s grandma once danced with Lawrence Welk when he worked in the Yankton area!

University of South Dakota
Campus grounds of South Dakota
University of South Dakota
Old Main was built in 1883, burned down in 1889, and was ultimately restored in 1997
University of South Dakota
Steve retraces his mom’s and other famous folks’ steps on the campus

Within the university campus is a hidden gem of South Dakota, the National Music Museum. We’d heard this was a wonderful museum, so we had to check it out.  My goodness, it took us half the day to peruse the amazing array of instruments on display in this collection!  This museum is worth a significant drive if you are interested in musical instruments at all.


The museum is renowned for its collection, which includes more than 15,000 American, European, and non-Western instruments from all cultures and historical periods.  They include many of the earliest, best preserved, and historically most important instruments known to exist.  The quality and scope of the NMM has earned it international recognition.  Here is just a sampling of what we enjoyed learning about:

Harpsichord by Andreas Ruckers, Antwerp, 1643
Harpsichord by Andreas Ruckers, Antwerp, 1643
Classic Guitars
Rare guitars made by Stradivari, D’Angelico, Martin, Gibson and Fender
Ceremony Drum from Alaska
Ceremonial drum with a three-pronged Caribou antler as a handle

The self-guided tour included free use of an iPod, which allowed us to hear the sounds made by many of the instruments, as well as to learn more about them.  Awesome tour!

Beede Gallery
The Beede Gallery showcases non-Western music that includes 240 exotic instruments from diverse cultures around the world
Conch Shell Trumpet
Conch Shell Trumpet – Tibet.  Can’t say we’ve seen this before!

All in all it was an amazing museum and really worth a stop!

We really enjoyed our visit with relatives, experiencing the charm of this part of the country, and seeing things we would have missed if we hadn’t detoured here.  A great pause before our trek into Iowa!



  1. The houses both look like they are in good condition. I am sure Steve had some memories he was able to share with you.

    I would love that Parade. Actually I love any parade.

    University of South Dakota is beautiful indeed. The Museum looks like a great one. The Conch Shell Trumpets are a bit strange looking, but each to his own.

  2. I definitely need to see that musical instrument museum! The whole town looks lovely, and it sounds like you had a good time with Steve’s family. Hmmm….do you think anyone would be willing to pull you out of the mud with their pristine restored antique tractor? You might have to find someone with a tractor that’s not so valuable. 🙂

  3. What a fascinating place. The tractor parade looks great, but that music museum would keep me happy for hours. How wonderful to meet up with family again. Jim and Lynn’s home is really beautiful, inside and out. 🙂

  4. What a neat time for Steve to revisit this area with you. He certainly has some longevity in his family! Both houses are still in great shape. Love the tractor parade! A first for me. The University campus is very nice. I would have enjoyed the National Music Museum.

    • I was really glad to have finally met Jim and Lynn. I agree you would enjoy the Music Museum. We were fascinated with the impressive collections from centuries ago. We were amazed that this valuable collections are displayed in Vermillon, SD.

  5. That looks a lot like a harpsichord, Monaliza. Did it identify it as a grand piano? I always loved the sound that a harpsichord makes. 🙂


      • I have to defer the credit to my mom, who was an accomplished pianist and pipe organist. She used to despise playing Bach (too much ‘up and down’), but when given the chance to sit at a harpsichord at Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, that’s what she chose to play. That was the only time I know of that she ever played a harpsichord, and she nailed it. Your post brought back some great memories, Mona Liza!

  6. Always fun reconnecting with personal history and extended family. Love those buildings at the University. I could see Steve driving one of those tractors 🙂

  7. What a tractor parade! My brother drives his 1952 tractor in NJ parades and he also oves all things mechanical. I am intrigued by the music museum and the hometown charm of Yankton, SD.

  8. Such a fun time…
    Visits with family are always fun and what a beautiful log cabin Steve’s cousin has. Nothing like a parade and being apart of the community.
    Thanks for sharing the info and pictures from the museum.

  9. Wow Monaliza what a great find in that music museum. Simply beautiful instruments and I love that they provide a way to hear them as well. What fun to return to Steve’s roots and see the old homes, the university and visit with relatives. You guys always find the neatest things to do. Can’t wait to hear about the rally.

  10. I love old instruments and those from other cultures so I would have really enjoyed the musical instrument museum. Thanks for sharing these great pictures. 🙂

  11. I never ceased to be amazed by the little gems you two find during your travels. How great to spend time with Steve’s relatives reminiscing about family life. I would have enjoyed the National Music Museum, especially listening to the sounds those instruments made.

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