Thanks to the Pierre Capital Journal for publishing this story!
By Del Bartels firstname.lastname@example.org
Apr 8, 2022
The annual Easter Egg Hunt on the lawn of the governor’s residence has delivered thousands of pounds of candy and lots of great stories over the decades.
This year’s 69th annual hunt, hosted by the Pierre Elks Lodge, will be held April 17.
The stockpile of plastic eggs, candy and toys is growing, though donations are still gladly accepted, said Jeff Hallem, the organization’s Squire.
After 40 years of heading the egg hunt, Steve Wegman has passed along the chair’s duties to Heather Perry, the current Exalted Ruler. Wegman said the egg hunt has grown over the years and now has 200 to 250 people helping with the preparations; each year about $7,000 goes toward candy and prizes.
Wegman became the chair after a near-catastrophe years ago. Traditionally, the officers of the Elks had overseen the Easter egg hunt. One year, the weekend before the hunt, they realized nobody had purchased candy. It was almost the egg hunt that never was, Wegman said. He stepped up and had been the lone person in charge ever since.
Wegman recalls that in his first few years they had around 50,000 pieces of candy, 500 eggs and 1,000 kids. Today, they draw about 1,500 children through age 12.
They’ve learned some lessons over the years, too.
“In the old days, we used to have hard-boiled eggs out on the lawn — sometimes 70 degrees out — not a good idea,” Wegman said.
While the event has never been canceled due to weather, the pandemic in 2020 meant the event was turned into a kids coloring contest. The hunt was held in 2021.
“One snowy year, we moved it to the back of the Capitol building to concrete pavement, and I would never do that again, because Easter eggs and little kids and concrete curbs and gravel don’t go together,” Wegman said. “For two years, while they were building the new governor’s residence, we moved it to the front of the Capitol building and that was kind of fun. But having it on the governor’s lawn, there’s something magical about that.”
Wegman thanks the buildings and grounds crews for sweeping and sprucing up the property, a 104,000-square-foot yard — before the candy and prizes are laid out — especially after one year when the littler kids started picking up the “natural tootsie rolls” that were left behind by the geese.
Then there was the year that looked “more like Christmas than an Easter egg hunt. We had fishing poles, real binoculars, all kinds of toys — more toys than candy,” Wegman said. Another year, more than 900 pounds of Cutie oranges were donated by a California company. They were a hit.
He said one year a highway patrol trooper who was helping set out the toys and candy asked if he could participate in the actual egg hunt. Wegman’s reply: only if you can out-wrestle an 11 year old going after the same treats.
Wegman said the governors have been helpful over the years, with one being almost too helpful. Wegman recalls when Gov. Walter Dale Miller (1993-95) wanted to invite everyone inside the residence for breakfast — a precedent Wegman wasn’t sure future governors would appreciate. Wegman had a hard time talking Miller out of it.
Not just the governors, but the lieutenant governors and both of their families have participated, Hallem said.
“Through all the years, all the first ladies, now we have the first gentleman last year the same way, just very polite and very helpful. Historically, when I talked to them their families enjoyed it, too,” Hallem said. “And now you have great-great-grandkids that are involved, multigenerational over the years.”
Wegman recalls when his own daughters, Adriane and Rachel, participated in the hunt from when they were 5 years old, and went on to help into their twenties.
Hallem has his own list of memorable moments. For some years, the Elks put out quite a few chocolate eggs and a lot of Reese’s Pieces, but one of the last times they put these items on the ground the day became hot and the items melted. Hallem’s story includes that the squirrels came out and ate the melted chocolate, and they were doing flip-flops, supposedly from all the sugar.
Now the Elks make the candy that could melt more directly available to the kids, Hallem said.
Then there was the year everybody jumped the gun.
Marc Ulmen, a former Exalted Ruler of the Elks, said, “One of the governors started the countdown in reverse, so when he started with one instead of 10, then the kids all disappeared, everybody went early. That was fun!”
“Now it’s three-two-one, and then there’s just a mass going out on the lawn,” Hallem said.