Friends, family, and South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership (SDARL) alumni surprised outgoing Executive Director Lori Cope on December 21, 2020 with a retirement celebration via Zoom, sharing appreciation and memories from her eight years of service with the program.

Lori, her husband Jerry, and their daughter Audrey joined the video call (under the guise of an awards program for Audrey) from their home in Rapid City. Daughters Leslie and Zoe were already online, as were more than 50 friends and colleagues from across the state and country, to greet a visibly surprised Lori.

SDARL CEO Don Norton opened the event with remarks of gratitude for Lori’s contributions to the program and the four classes she led in leadership development. Chairman Todd Mortenson offered congratulations and gratitude on behalf of the Board of Directors.

Representatives from each of Lori’s classes also provided comments, stories, and photos that characterized Lori’s impact on the program, the state, and the individuals whose lives she touched. Speakers included Ross Tschetter, Class VI; Eric Jennings, Class VIII, Matt Dybedahl, Class IX, and Heather Niederwerder, Class X. The floor was then opened for comments from other attendees, who provided an outpouring of heartfelt appreciation and well wishes for an enjoyable retirement.

With the assistance of Jerry, Lori was presented with gifts of an engraved clock and a memory book from SDARL. Lori then shared a few thoughts, commenting that this was one of the few times she was “speechless” and without prepared remarks. Speaking from the heart, Lori shared that the secret of her success relationship building, knowing and appreciating each person as an individual, and for the potential they possess. The event concluded as attendees proposed a toast to Lori for both her profound impact and her future endeavors.

Lori will retire from SDARL effective December 31, 2020.


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