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Wayne S. Knutson

1926 - 2015 Obituary Condolences
Wayne S. Knutson Obituary
Wayne S. Knutson

Wayne Schafer Knutson, 89, of Vermillion, SD, died from congestive heart failure on Monday, December 7, 2015 at Sanford Vermillion Care Center.

Funeral services will be 10:30 AM Friday, December 11 at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Vermillion with burial to follow in the Bluffview Cemetery in Vermillion. Visitation will be from 5-7 PM Thursday, December 10 at the church.

Wayne was born June 1, 1926 on a farm near Dry Run marshland in Roberts County near New Effington, SD. He was youngest of the eleven children of Edward and Julia (Sanden) Knutson. His earliest childhood was spent during the Great Depression and drought of the 1930s. It gave great importance to Hart No. 3, the one-room school he attended and where he found a refuge, both physically and mentally, with what he felt to be outstanding teachers. Wayne came to the attention of Dr. Michael Miles Guhin, founder of the Young Citizens League. He invited Wayne to be Master of Ceremonies at the League's annual statewide dinner, where he introduced Governor Harlan Bushfield and other state dignitaries. Later he represented the Y.C.L. when he spoke before the Kiwanis International Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the completion of his eighth grade, he had earned the honor of being valedictorian at the rural schools commencement ceremony at New Effington.

He attended Sisseton High School, where he was Student Manager for all the athletic teams and actively participated in debate, oral interpretation, and school plays. He was voted Homecoming Chieftain and elected senior class president and student body president. He graduated as a member of the Class of 1944.

After graduation he received an appointment as a cadet midshipman in the Merchant Marines. Following several months of basic training and study, he was assigned to gain experience on the S.S. Westminster, a victory ship. Initially, he learned the basics of navigation on the way to the Hawaiian Islands. In Hawaii the ship was ordered to Norfolk, Virginia to be converted to a troop ship. The War in Germany was over, and the ship was filled in Marseilles, France with soldiers who had experienced the perils of war. On the return to America, a portion of the ship broke up in a violent storm in the North Atlantic, and six veterans of the war were killed. Wayne said he could never forget seeing a war veteran dying under debris and calling, "Mama, save me!"

Landing in New York, Wayne was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer and chronic seasickness and was sent to a Marine Hospital in New Orleans. He was honorably discharged from duty.

A few months later, he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Infantry and was stationed at Fort McClellan and Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He volunteered for overseas duty and was sent to Masan, Korea to a military unit during the U.S. occupation of Korea after the defeat of the Japanese invaders and before the Korean War. He became ill with rheumatic fever, was sent back to America on a hospital ship, and was treated at Letterman's Hospital in California. He recovered at San Antonio, where he received an honorable discharge.

With the aid of the G.I Bill, he spent three years of undergraduate study, one year at the University of South Dakota and two years at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, SD, where he received a B.A. Degree in English and Theatre.

Upon receiving his degree, he married Esther Marie Johnstad, a high school classmate, on July 30, 1950 at Goodwill Lutheran Church in Sisseton, SD. With his wife's support, he entered the graduate program in theatre at U.S.D. For his thesis, he wrote and directed a play entitled One Life to Spend, and in June 1951 he received his M.A. Degree in English and Theatre.

During the summer of 1951, Wayne and Esther attended the Black Hills Playhouse as members of the company. From 1952 to 1963 Wayne served as Business Manager and Associate Director of the Playhouse under Warren (Doc) M. Lee. Wayne and his family returned several times after 1963, when Wayne would direct a play, conduct a workshop, or help raise funds. He served for many years on the Playhouse Board of Directors and was, at the time of his death, an honorary member of the Board.

In the fall of 1951 he was employed by the First National Bank of the Black Hills in Rapid City, and within a few months he was made Purchasing Agent for the bank in Rapid City and its seven branches. In the spring he received and accepted the invitation from Dr. Warren M. Lee to return to U.S.D. as a member of the faculty in the Department of Speech and Dramatic Arts. After two years he took a leave of absence to work on a Ph.D. at the University of Denver. Although summers were spent at the BHP, he took the necessary courses and examinations to receive the Ph.D. in both of the departments of English and Theatre with a common dissertation entitled A Definition of Modern Tragedy.

He returned to U.S.D. in the fall of 1956 and was appointed Director of the University Theatre. Over the next several years he directed many plays at both the University and the BHP and wrote several plays and also three one-act operas with Dr. Robert Marek, composer. In 1970 he was selected to be on the SD State Arts Council under the National Endowment for the Arts. He served the Council for several years as the chairman in a time of its early existence. One year after his service to the Council, he was selected to be a member of the SD Humanities Council under the National Endowment for the Humanities; he served for two years as its chairman and was the first person in the United States to have served both Councils as chairman.

The University of South Dakota commissioned Wayne to write a drama with music by Dr. Robert Marek for the 75th anniversary of the University in 1957. Titled The Mirrored Maze, it was produced again fifty years later.

His last creative effort was in 1996, when he was commissioned to write a script for a readers theatre from letters between two half brothers; one stayed in Norway, and the other one immigrated to America. Successfully performed in four states, The Stavig Letters was later made into a documentary by South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Giving Knutson credit as the writer, the documentary received a Regional Emmy Award.

He was a member of the Literature Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts and was host and narrator for the SD Broadcasting station's television series called Scrapbook for two years. In 1966 he was asked to chair the Department of English, while still being sought as a popular judge of nearly ten thousand high school students competing in oral interpretation and theatre.

Following his term as chairman in English, he directed the merger between Southern State College and U.S.D. in 1971. The next year he became Dean of the College of Fine Arts during final preparations to occupy the new Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts. He attended Harvard University in the summer of 1973 as a member of the Institute for Educational Management. After his service of nine years as Dean of the College of Fine Arts, he was asked to become the Vice President for Academic Affairs, while the University was undergoing transition in its administration. He then received a joint appointment as Professor of English and Theatre until his retirement in 1987. During his last year of teaching at USD, he was appointed University Distinguished Professor by the SD Board of Regents; his was the first such appointment by the Regents. As a University Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, he directed theatrical productions in community theaters in Rapid City, Pierre, Yankton, and Sisseton. With support of the SD Council for the Humanities, he lectured on The Legacy of the One-Room Schools in cities throughout the state.

He continued to write and portions of his play, Dream Valley, were selected for Voice of America. His play, The Dakota Descendants of Ola Rue, was produced for the SD Centennial in 1989 and was supported by a grant from the Bush Foundation. He wrote several articles, including a biography of Robert Penn, Native American artist, and he was commissioned by the Board of Regents to write a short history of the University of South Dakota for its publication.

In 1990 former students and colleagues initiated The Wayne S. Knutson Endowment to honor his 35 years of service to the University and the State of South Dakota. He asked that his wife's name be added to the name of the endowment for her support throughout his career. Income from the endowment has steadily increased, and, over the years, more than one hundred scholarships have been awarded, and five faculty honors have been funded.

He dedicated himself to keep The Shrine to Music Museum (now the National Music Museum) in South Dakota. In nominating Dr. Knutson for the SD Hall of Fame in 2001, Dr. Andre Larson said, "Without Knutson the museum would never have stayed in SD. It's as simple as that."

In addition to his appointment as University Distinguished Professor, he received the Best Teacher Award in 1968, the Distinguished Service Award from the SD Speech Association in 1985, the South Dakota Governor's Award for Creative Achievement in 1986, the Burlington Foundation Faculty Achievement Award in 1986, and the SD Arts Council Artists in Theatre fellowship in 1987. He was named "Alumnus of the Year" at Sisseton High School in 1989 and received Augustana's Alumni Achievement Award in 1992. The main stage theatre at USD was renamed the Wayne S. Knutson Theatre in his honor in 1999. He was named to the SD Hall of Fame in 2001. His biography first appeared in the 40th edition of Who's Who in America (1978-1979). He was especially proud of this, because his biography identified his parents by name, neither of whom had finished the eighth grade. Their very existence was proved in libraries across the world.

He was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Vermillion from 1952, during which time he served at various times as a Sunday School teacher, a deacon, president of the congregation, and head of the successful campaign to build a new sanctuary.

With rare exceptions, he attended the musical and athletic activities of both his children and grandchildren. His greatest satisfaction occurred when he was able to bring people with varied opinions to act together for the common good. He enjoyed reading, and he found great joy in conversation on just about every conceivable subject.

He was preceded in death by his parents, six brothers, four sisters, and a nephew. Survivors include his wife, Esther Marie; his son, Dr. David Wayne (Diane) Knutson; his son, Jon Eric (Patricia) Knutson, and his daughter, Jane Marie O'Brien; six grandchildren: Jonathon Knutson, Eric (Lindsey) Knutson, Erin Knutson, Elen O'Brien, Paul (Roxanne) Knutson, and Kelsey Knutson; his sister-in-law, Lorene Knutson, and several nieces and nephews.

Memorials may be directed to the USD Foundation for the Wayne S. and Esther M. Knutson Endowment or to a .

Published in The Argus Leader on Dec. 9, 2015
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