Published: Thursday, September 12th, 2013
Jessie Y. Sundstrom was born May 18, 1922, in Rapid City, S.D., and spent her early years there and in Custer, S.D. She grew up in Deadwood, S.D., graduating from high school there in 1940.
She began her long association with the newspaper industry at age 9 by folding copies of the Deadwood Pioneer-Times, where her mother, Camille Yuill, was city editor. By the time she was in high school, she was writing articles and local news items for the Black Hills Weekly. She completed a secretarial course at Black Hills Business College in Rapid City in 1943 and later took classes at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Black Hills State College.
From 1940-1947 she held secretarial positions for a judge, a state’s attorney, the U.S. Bureau of Mines, the contractor for the “igloos” at the Black Hills Ordnance Depot, and the Veterans Administration Hospital at Fort Meade.
In 1947, Jessie married Carl H. Sundstrom, publisher of the Custer County Chronicle. Five children were born to their marriage. Jessie worked at the Chronicle as accountant, reporter, photographer and editor. In 1970, she was also employed as a crew chief for the U.S. Census Bureau.
With the death of her husband in December 1972, she took over as editor and publisher and continued to publish the paper until 1981. During that interval, she served as secretary and president of the Black Hills Press Association. Her reporting and editorials on racial unrest in Custer in February 1973 received praise for their thoroughness and objectivity.
Sundstrom served as president of the Custer County Extension Council, secretary of the Black Hills Playhouse board of directors for 25 years, secretary of the American Red Cross fund drive in Custer County for disabled children, secretary of the Badger Clark Memorial Society for 29 years and was secretary and president of the Custer Parent-Teacher Association.
She was active in Girl Scouting from 1948-1974, serving as troop leader, leader trainer and president of the Black Hills Girl Scout Council. During the 1960s and 1970s, she served as media consultant for the national Girl Scout Roundup in Idaho, as delegate to the national Girl Scout Triennium in New Orleans and as national committee member. She served on the board of directors of Crazy Horse Memorial for 35 years.
Upon selling the Chronicle Sundstrom worked for several years as assistant administrator to Ruth Ziolkowski. Her accomplishments at Crazy Horse included helping to design and administer the Indian Museum of North America and the Indian Cultural Center.
Sundstrom was a member of the Custer County Historical Society from 1948 until her death. She managed the Custer County 1881 Courthouse Museum from 1998 to 2004 and was instrumental in preserving the Historic Landmark courthouse building. She was secretary to the museum board of trustees and the Custer County Historical Society board of directors until January 2006.
As the go-to person for Custer County history, she often gave historic programs to the community and to school classes. In 2003 she was honored at the Elders Program of the district. The fourth-grade class interviewed her and performed an original song about her life. The class wrote, “Jessie Sundstrom describes herself as a free spirit who wants to be remembered as a ‘real true friend.’” She was Custer State Park historian for several years and a member of the South Dakota Historical Society board of directors for 12 years, also serving on the advisory boards for the State Archives and State Archaeologist’s office.
She gave numerous presentations on history for the Jedediah Smith Corral of Westerners, the Black Hills Corral of Westerners, the Custer County Historical Society and other organizations.
In 1976, Sundstrom led a bicentennial history project, culminating in publication, under her editorship, of “Custer County History to 1974.” She wrote several other books on area history including “Pioneers and Custer State Park; A History of Custer City (1876-1925)”; “Badger Clark, Cowboy Poet with Universal Appeal”; and “Carl Sanson, Black Hills Rancher.” From 1995 to 2001 she published a monthly magazine, Hills and Plains History. She also edited and published books for other authors, including Tim Giago, Mel Gibbs and Melvin H. Jackson. She had recently completed a biography of her mother, titled “Camille.”
Sundstrom received Girl Scouting’s highest award, the Thanks Badge, in 1974. The West River History Conference presented her its top award for preservation and history in 1994. The Badger Clark Memorial Society honored her in 1998 for service in connection with a South Dakota Public Television production of a play about Clark. She was awarded the Governor’s Individual Award for History in 1999, the Dreamer’s Award from Crazy Horse Memorial in 2001, Custer County Chamber of Commerce community service award in 2002 and the Community Circle for Education Award from the Custer School District in 2003. She was named Gold Discovery Days parade marshal in 2007.
Jessie died Sept. 5, 2013, at her home in Custer. She was 91.
Jessie was preceded in death by her husband, Carl H. Sundstrom; daughter, Christine; and sister, Barbara Herigstad.
She is survived by her daughters, Julien (Bruce) Wiley and Linea (Glen Fredlund) Sundstrom; sons, Carl (Phyl) and Roy Sundstrom; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held Sept. 10 at the 1881 Courthouse Museum in Custer. Inurnment followed at Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis.
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