Phil Lampert is Citizen of the Year
Published: Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
Much like the single name “Cher,” mention the name “Phil” in Custer County and most people know you’re talking about Phil Lampert.
For many years, Phil Lampert has been an important part of the development and promotion of Custer City, Custer County, Custer State Park and the Black Hills.
Although Phil was born in Custer, he grew up west of Custer near the Wyoming border. His grandparents, Charles and Olive Lampert, were some of the first settlers in Custer County, coming here in the late 1800s.
In fact, the old rock house at the original homestead — just west of Lauzon School by Elk Mountain — is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Phil was the concessionaire at Custer State Park for 28 years and also holds a multitude of other memberships. He’s been a Custer County commissioner since 2009, is president of the board of the Black Hills Playhouse, on the Mount Rushmore Memorial Society Board, is chairman of the Custer County Planning Commission, on the South Dakota Worker’s Compensation Appeals Panel, co-chair of the Mammoth Site Executive Committee, on the First Interstate Foundation Board, on the First Interstate Custer Area Fund Board and an advisory board member of First Interstate Bank in Custer.
Other positions he has filled are past president of the South Dakota Retailers Assn. Board; past president of the Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Assn. Board; past chairman of the Children’s Home Foundation Board; past president of the South Dakota Innkeeper’s Assn. Board; and a former member of the Visitor Industry Alliance Board.
He is part owner of Lampert & Associates, a hospitality consulting/management firm headquartered in Custer; A Walk in the Woods - department store/art gallery in Custer; and the Dakotah Steakhouse in Rapid City. Lampert & Associates was recently contacted about the possibility of designing, building, opening and operating another Dakotah Steakhouse styled restaurant in Estes Park, Colo. They are currently working on a business plan for that project.
His hobby, he says, is work.
Even as a youth, work was a way of life for Phil. When he was 9 or 10, he washed car windows for tips and ran a movie projector at a drive-in movie theatre in Wyoming. He always had a job.
Phil could be found at Rushmore Cave in the summers — painting signs —before graduating from Rapid City Central in 1963. He was drafted into the military right out of high school and joined the Navy. When he got out in 1969, after serving eight months in Vietnam, he came back to Rapid City.
Not really knowing what he wanted to do, Phil had taken a test for the Highway Patrol while in California and passed (he ranked third in the state). He applied at the Rapid City Police Department and was hired on the spot.
While that was interesting and exciting, Phil says, he and his family were living on “starvation wages.” He was also working three part-time jobs: shingling roofs, washing dishes at the Howard Johnson and selling correspondence courses for the Cleveland Institution of Electronics.
In one of those moments on which the rest of your life hinges, Phil’s life was forever changed when the breakfast cook didn’t show up one morning. He was thrown into the job, where he learned the hard way.
“I broke three dozen eggs getting one cooked,” he says. “The waitress was yelling at me. It was quite a fiasco.”
However, that episode turned out to be the start of his hospitality career, as he was hired as a management trainee.
Phil built up the Rapid City Howard Johnson into the number one convention center in the U.S. He was promoted to the position of Howard Johnson supervisor for the state of Florida, but found he hated it.
He then purchased half interest in Phil and Phil’s Uniform Co. in Rapid City, in partnership with Phil Morgan. They built that business up to close to $1 million a year, but, as any fast-growing business, it had growing pains, and Phil eventually sold his half to his partner.
Deciding it was time to do something on his own, Phil got a broker’s license (something he still maintains) and opened a real estate agency.
In 1977, Phil bid on the Blue Bell concessions in Custer State Park and got it, pumping every penny he made back into the business and living in the upstairs there.
In 1983, Phil couldn’t sell a bar in Hermosa through his real estate agency, so he bought it and renamed it Wild Phil’s.
It was here he met and became friends with Jim Borglum, Mt. Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s grandson. They became partners in the concessions — at the Game Lodge in 1988, Legion Lake in 1989 and Sylvan Lake in 1990. It was the first time in history all the resorts were under one management.
Their lease ran out in 2006, but their friendship and partnership in other ventures still continue.
Although Phil admits he’s worked hard throughout his life, he also says he had a banker who took a chance on him when he had to borrow money to become Custer State Park’s concessionaire.
One of his greatest accomplishments, he feels, is building the resorts in the park into what they are today.
“Nobody wanted a monopoly (of the park resorts), but it’s the best thing that ever happened to the park,” he notes. “It is one of the most popular parks in the Midwest.”
Creative in problem solving, Phil was the first business owner to hire foreign help during the summers. That strategy is standard today in the tourism industry.
He gives credit also to those with vision who worked with him, such as Rollie Noem and Craig Pugsley. Together they worked to make the Buffalo Roundup grow and added the arts festival in the park, along with the other activities. Although the first year saw only 12 vendors, it took hold over the years and has grown into a huge festival with many vendors, entertainment and activities.
Phil also was the one who came up with the idea of having a promotional fee for all the concessions in the park — a fee that now provides thousands of dollars to promote the park.
Between Phil and his long-time companion, Sue, they have five children, 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
With such a varied background and such a wide variety of interests and talents, it’s no surprise that Phil says he still doesn’t know what he wants to do when he grows up.
“I’ve done a lot of things. Some I liked and some I didn’t,” he says. “I’ll never be rich, but I’m comfortable.”
The Chronicle maintains that Phil is indeed rich — rich in friends, experiences and accomplishments. For that reason and for all he’s done for this community and this area over the years, the Chronicle is happy to announce that Phil has been chosen as Citizen of the Year.
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