Northern State University awards five individuals with Honorary Doctorates

ABERDEEN, S.D.(Press Release) — Five icons of the Aberdeen community and longtime supporters of Northern State University were awarded honorary doctorates at the spring commencement ceremony held Saturday, May 4 in the Barnett Center.

Harvey Jewett, Michael Evans, Tim Kessler (honored posthumously), Eldon Swingler, and Jack Thompson were awarded the Honorary Doctor of Public Service as members of the Great Plains Foundation’s board and for their distinguishing individual achievements within their fields and community. The honorary doctorate is the highest honor bestowed by the Board of Regents and Northern State University to pay tribute to worthy individuals, and simultaneously enhance the university by such action.

“Each of these men have lived lives of purpose and distinction while providing profound and unwavering support for Northern State University,” stated Northern’s President, Dr. Neal Schnoor. “It was a privilege to commemorate their remarkable achievements and generosity to Northern, all of higher education, and many secondary, elementary, and special education initiatives across the state.”

Harvey Jewett is a prominent figure in business and law, was inducted into the SD Hall of Fame in 2005, and awarded the McKusick award in 2021 for lifetime service to the USD Law School and the Legal Profession. His service to the South Dakota Board of Regents is unprecedented – serving as a member for 20 years and President for 10. He served as general counsel for Super 8 Motels, Incorporated, and its subsidiary companies, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Rivett Group, Chair of the Governor’s Commission on K-12 Education, and Board member for the Hatterscheidt Foundation and Dakota Corp Scholarship program. He also served his country as an Infantry Captain in the United States Army and Army Reserve.

Michael Evans, a South Dakota native, graduated from Northern State University in 1971 and has been designated as a Distinguish Alum. He purchased Centennial Homes in 1972 and has served as Chairman & CEO of Centennial Holdings for 54 years. Evans has actively contributed to Northern State University through participation in presidential and executive director search committees and has served on the NSU Foundation Board in multiple capacities. His generous financial support of Northern has been transformational across decades including recently creating the Michael and Barbara Evans Gap Scholarships which provide emergency assistance to students enabling them to continue their studies and graduate. Evans has been a board member of the Great Plains Education Foundation since 2012.

Tim Kessler, a respected Aberdeen multi-generational business owner and lifelong philanthropist, made significant contributions to South Dakota’s conservation efforts during his seventeen-year tenure as Commissioner of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. His leadership extended to various influential boards, including Pheasants Forever national board, Great Plains Foundation, American Bank & Trust Board, South Dakota Board of Economic Development, and South Dakota Retailers’ Association. Kessler’s conservation legacy includes the dedication of the 440-acre Kessler Game Production Area and receiving the Governor’s Distinguished Service Award in 2015 from Governor Dennis Daugaard.

Eldon Swingler graduated from Northern in 1972. As the Agency Principal and President of Financial Services at Insurance Plus, he has been an integral part of his community’s growth and development. A member of the Great Plains Education Foundation Board of Directors for 15 years, he has also served on the board of directors of the Aspire Foundation, NSU Foundation, and as Co-Chair of the Boys and Girls Club Capital Campaign. In addition to his generous support of Northern, Eldon has continued to be a generous benefactor to an array of community and business start-ups, earning him the gratitude of many.

Jack Thompson, a longtime resident of Aberdeen, was employed for 30 years by First Bank System Incorporated, serving as President at US Bank in Aberdeen, before working as a self-employed financial consultant. He has served on the Great Plains Education Foundation Board of Directors for 24 years, Aberdeen Development Corporation for 12 years, and has served over 30 years on the Hatterscheidt Foundation Board of Directors, where he currently serves as President. He has previously served the NSU Foundation as Chair of the Finance Committee and Capital Campaign Committee member, and currently serves on the Board for Spurs Therapeutic Horseback Riding Center of Aberdeen.

“The concurrent bestowal of five honorary doctorates is unprecedented in the 123-year legacy of Northern State University and the 128-year history of the South Dakota Board of Regents,” said Regent Randy Frederick who jointly conferred the degrees with President Schnoor. “It is altogether appropriate in light of the distinctive and generous contributions the five have made individually and collectively.”