If you’ve ever wanted to experience what the frontier looked like when the United States of America was first being born, you can’t do much better than South Dakota.
Crazy Horse, the Oglala Lakota war chief held court there, winning the Battle of the Little Bighorn there in 1876. The town of Deadwood, home of the Black Hills Gold Rush, was once the most populous city west of the Mississippi River, and even now thrives because of its 1989 decision to legalize gambling to maintain the local history of the place.
Braving the frontier meant adapting to new circumstances, learning new skills, trusting people you’ve barely met, and believing that you’ve made the right decision, even if your heart and your head don’t always agree.
Wilma Dwight was born in Rapid City, South Dakota, in the 1920s, when the city had a meager 5,777 residents. She was raised there as it grew and grew, spending 53 years in the city in which it swelled into a population in the 40,000s.
Like her forefathers who first called South Dakota home, Dwight had a decision to make and a new frontier to conquer in the last few years – trading in the home she knew and the lifestyle she had maintained for one of assisted living, in a new state, a new city, with new people, and a new way of doing things.
“My husband passed away 12 years ago,” Dwight, now 96, says. “Eventually I started to need someone to help me do things. It was very hard to sell my home, to get rid of all those things, but eventually I knew it had to be done.”
The move was not just down the street, but almost 1,000 miles east of Rapid City to Michigan City, Indiana. Fortunately for Dwight, she’s seldom far from family, as she and her husband had three children, who in turn have provided her with 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Not to mention that even 14 hours from where she grew up and lived most of her life, she has found friends from back home at the assisted living facility known as Rittenhouse Village at Michigan City.
“There are a lot of people here from South Dakota,” she says delightedly. “I’ve become very good friends with some of them, and it really means a lot to have someone you can connect to.”
While she may be closing in on a century of living, Dwight never shows it. She interacts with friends and staff and takes part in as many activities as she can on a regular basis.
“I like the workers, they do a very good job of helping us out with everything we do, and everything we can’t do anymore,” she said. “They have so many activities. We play bridge and all kinds of games. They have a program of shows and dancer and singers that are just wonderful, and we have parties and lots going on. Our activities director is very good. There’s always lots going on, we’re not lacking for anything.”