We’ve lost a good guy named Jerry Nachtigal.
Those of us who have spent a lot of time covering state government might be excused if we think of Jerry as the last of his kind, a press secretary who recognized that his job was to be an enabler, not a roadblock.
Jerry was Mel Carnahan’s spokesman. He was the one who made the official announcement that terrible night almost seventeen years ago that his boss and two others had been killed in a plane crash. Governor Carnahan, his son Randy, and the governor’s chief aide, Chris Sifford died in that crash. Chris had been Jerry’s predecessor as the governor’s press guy.
Jerry stayed on as Roger Wilson’s spokesman during Wilson’s two-month governorship. And he remained in the position for a while for Bob Holden. He always dealt with the press with high professionalism. This reporter cannot recall ever having a cross word with him. If we needed a comment from Governor Carnahan, he always tried to connect us with him or at least was able to tell us what the governor was thinking—we recall several times when the governor had gone to Washington or somewhere else to conduct state business and Jerry always made sure we could get a long-distance call by the governor from the airport before takeoff on the return flight.
It helped that Jerry had spent almost two decades working for the Associated Press in Kansas City and Springfield as well as in Phoenix. Unlike too many of his successors throughout state government, he knew the press and how it operates. And he worked for a governor who was open about his actions and who was unafraid to explain and defend them.
Jerry was a native of South Dakota and the state eventually drew him back to it, first to be a spokesman for an unsuccessful candidate for governor and then as a spokesman for Citibank in Sioux Falls. When he died, he was the Senior Vice President of Public Affairs. He was a respected community leader, a trustee of the South Dakota State University foundation (he was a graduate of the school), a board member of the Sioux Falls YMCA, and a board member of the South Dakota Banking Association. He also ran most of Citi’s philanthropic efforts in the state.
The CEO of the Sioux Falls YMCA was quoted in Jerry’s obituary saying Jerry was a powerful corporate executive but didn’t lord it over anyone. “He was just down to earth, great communicator, always open to talking about things…someone who believed in giving back.”
He and his family were the South Dakota State University Family of the Year in 2005. He bled blue and yellow as he watched the Jackrabbits basketball and football games. And there was some purple, too, for his Minnesota Vikings. He loved baseball, particularly the Twins, he fished; he hunted; he looked at birds. He once said that everybody in family but him and the dog played tennis—but he was one of the top leaders in efforts to build a major indoor tennis facility in Sioux Falls so people could play in the months when, as he noted, South Dakota is frozen.
Cancer claimed him at the age of 57. He leaves his wife, three children, and other family members.
We appreciated him and respected him when he was with us at the Capitol. That was, unfortunately, a far different time. The press and the public here have not been served as well since he went back to South Dakota.
He was a good man. We are lucky to have been able to work with him. And grateful that we did.