Robert Wharton, 1951-2012

Details haven’t been disclosed yet about the death today of Robert Wharton, the late president for the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. He spent the past year fighting against cancer and for a while seemed to be past it. He was named president for the School of Mines in 2008, succeeding Charles Ruch. By training President Wharton was a biologist. By nature he was a researcher and a leader. The state Board of Regents chose him from a strong field of five finalists. He previously was provost and vice president for academic affairs at Idaho State University, where he built an impressive record of accomplishments such as improving retention of students. The regents released a statement this morning lamenting his passing and noting that Mines provost Duane Hrncir will serve as acting president. In 2008 the regents made two insightful, classy, economic-development oriented and community-oriented hires, with Robert Wharton and Northern State University president Charles Smith. Shortly after arriving on campus, President Wharton and his wife, Carolyn Fassi, who holds a doctorate in public administration from the University of Southern California, established a scholarship for freshmen at SDSMT. Bob held a doctorate in botany from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He was born Dec. 7, 1951, on the tenth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack that drew the U.S. into World War II. This afternoon Gov. Dennis Daugaard issued a statement on behalf of himself and his wife, Linda, expressing sadness and sympathies to Carolyn and their family. The governor said flags will be flown at half-staff on the date of the funeral, which as of early afternoon hadn’t been determined. Daugaard described Wharton as “a good friend who did great work for South Dakota at the School of Mines.”

For a look at what Bob Wharton was about, and what he meant for Rapid City and South Dakota, see this interview from a few years ago conducted by on-line journalist Sam Hurst:

And for a look at some photos collected by the Rapid City Journal through his years at SDSMT, here’s a link to the RCJ gallery:

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About Bob Mercer

I am a newspaper reporter in Pierre where I cover state government, issues and politics for the Aberdeen American News, the Black Hills Pioneer, the Mitchell Daily Republic, the Pierre Capital Journal, the Rapid City Journal, the Watertown Public Opinion and the Yankton Press & Dakotan. I began covering the Legislature in 1985 and have lived in Pierre since December 1986. I grew up in Wisconsin, worked my way through college, took my first full-time newspapers jobs in Wyoming, and have lived in South Dakota since the summer of 1984 when I moved to Aberdeen to join the American News. I worked for the Rapid City Journal as its state government reporter in Pierre from late 1992 through late 1998. I spent four years as press secretary and a senior aide to Gov. Bill Janklow during his fourth and final term from late 1998 through 2002. I returned to journalism in January 2003 as a self-employed reporter, providing state government coverage to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre and, depending on the year, Aberdeen newspapers. In 2008, the Aberdeen American News offered to hire me as full-time member of the AAN staff, with my reports continuing to be available to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre, Yankton and Rapid City papers. The new arrangement has been in effect since January 2009 as the seven papers continue their remarkable dedication to their readers and the general public, as the only South Dakota news outlets with a full-time reporter covering state government in Pierre throughout the year. In addition to focusing on the Legislature during the annual winter session and its various activities during the interim periods between sessions, I spend many days throughout the year -- traveling as often necessary -- to cover state government boards and commissions which oversee the state universities, technical institutes, outdoors, water, environment, business, public schools, banking, agriculture, utilities, health care and various other areas of public interest. I purposely don't register to vote because of my profession; the last time I recall voting in a presidential election was the first time, 1976, when I had just turned 18. I think I voted for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford. Make of that what you want, just don't make much of it.

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