(Pictured above: George T. Mickelson, wife Madge and their four children at the Governor's Mansion)

"Home" isn't necessarily a physical structure. For a lot of people, "home" is a feeling of security, comfort and happiness. It's the people that make them feel loved. It's the memories.

For the Mickelson family, the University of South Dakota is home.

“There are a few things in everyone’s life where you feel like you belong, and that’s how USD is for me,” says Mark Mickelson. “You’ve been going [to USD] for so long, you run into people you know from [your time at] school, your children’s friends, your parents’ friends, there are just lots of connections.

“It still feels like home.”

Part of that sense for Mark is also because it’s where he met his wife, Cynthia ’92, ’95, while he was back visiting for a Dakota Days in 1993. He ran into his mom Linda Mickelson Graham ’63 and some of her classmates, Jim ’63 and Nini ’64 Hart at Carey’s, who encouraged him to talk to their daughter, then a second year USD law student.

“Now we’re married 26 years,” Mark says. “For me, personally, my wife is my connection to USD. USD brought us together and that has been the best thing about my life.”

Family picture of Mickelsons at Mark and Cynthia's wedding in 1993
Mark and Cynthia's wedding in 1993 with Lambda Chis and Mark's mom Linda, a Lambda Chi Crescent

Some might be surprised to learn that Mark grew up in Brookings and considered himself a Jackrabbit in his youth. However, given the family ties to USD, they visited Vermillion often. Mark says in the back of his mind he always knew he would go to USD because of the family legacy.

Mark is among the third generation of the Mickelson family to attend USD. His grandfather, George T. Mickelson, was the first USD alumnus, earning his law degree in 1927. George T.’s younger brother, Clarence, would also graduate from USD in 1930 and Clarence met his wife, Gladys ’30, while at school.

“They were just trying to pay the bills,” Mark says as he reflects on the legacy his grandfather started. “But him going to USD and being successful is what put our family on the path to really have good, fulfilling lives.”

That decision – aided by teachers in Selby, South Dakota, to get George T. and Clarence enrolled at USD – started a family tree of Coyotes that continues to grow to this day, almost 100 years later.

George T. served as student body president while on campus in addition to being a founding member of USD’s Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity chapter. That penchant for public service continued through his life – and is another Mickelson family legacy – as he was South Dakota’s 18th governor and a U.S. district judge.

Valerie (Bucklin) Mickelson graduation in 1997 with spouse David Mickelson
Valerie (Bucklin) Mickelson graduation in 1997 with spouse David Mickelson

Although George T.’s wife Madge attended Northern Teacher’s College, all four of their children – Janice Mickelson Carmody ’51, Lavon Mickelson Meyers ’55, Patricia Mickelson Adam ’58, ’61, and George S. Mickelson ’63, ’65 – and three of their spouses would further the Mickelson legacy at USD:

  • Janice’s husband, John E. Carmody, Sr., received his bachelor’s in accounting from USD in 1949. All three of their children – John Carmody, Jr. ’74, Kristin Reaves ’76, and Joseph Carmody ’79 – were USD graduates.
  • Patricia’s husband, Thomas Adam ’60, ’62, received both his bachelor’s in business and law degree from USD. Their four children – Kathleen Bykowski ’83, Paula Adam-Burchill ’86, Karlton Adam ’87, and Sarah Axtman ’90 – and their children’s spouses – Bruce Bykowski ’81, Thomas Burchill ’84, Joan Adam ’89, and Gregory Axtman ’86 – all graduated from USD.
  • George S. would also follow in his father’s public service footsteps to become the state’s 28th governor. His surviving spouse, Linda Mickelson Graham, graduated from USD in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in English. Two of their three children – Amy Brecht ’94 and Mark Mickelson ’88 – and two of their children’s spouses – Valerie Mickelson ’97 and Cynthia Mickelson ’92, ’95 – received degrees from USD. Their son David, Val’s husband, played football at Black Hills State.

There are two dozen direct descendants of George T. who have earned USD degrees – from undergraduate to graduate. Take into account spouses’ families, it’s almost impossible to count the number of Coyotes.

Mark’s mom, Linda, represents another impressive branch of the family legacy. Her brother Lee McCahren ’57 and his wife Nancy ’57 were staunch Coyote fans. Nancy’s father was long-time USD basketball coach and athletic director Rube Hoy – another layer of relation to the Mickelson family legacy.

Even before they became family through marriage, Nancy was connected to the Mickelsons by her father, who worked with George T. when he was a student in the 1920s. Nancy says they built a lifelong friendship out of their love for South Dakota and the university. She and her siblings then became friends with George T.’s children Jan, Pat, George S. and their spouses.

“There’s been someone from that family at the university pretty much since they university was founded,” Nancy says. “The Mickelson family represents a special group. They would go the extra mark.

“There’s something about that family that sets them apart from other families at that time in the history of South Dakota… They are givers and doers.”

George S. Mickelson with in-laws Lee and Nancy McCahren and children
George S. Mickelson with in-laws Lee and Nancy McCahren and children

As any fellow USD alumnus knows, the Coyote bond is a strong one. Coyotes like to stick to their pack, and pride in that pack runs deep. That’s likely why the Mickelsons have maintained the friendships formed by USD connections, from Linda still playing weekly card games with some of her Pi Phi sisters to Mark being part of a book club comprised of USD alums.

Staci Stern has been friends with Cynthia Mickelson (Mark’s wife) since 1987. They attended USD together and were roommates their freshman year.

“It’s a friendship that’s stood the test of time,” she says. When she thinks about the Mickelsons, it’s their service to the state, their communities and the university that stands out.

“The Mickelson family and Coyote family have a lot of similarities. Both families care about their communities,” Staci says. “When you ask any Mickelson to step up, they step in. When you ask a Coyote to step up, they step in.

“What I would like people to know about the Mickelsons is their generosity. They give generously of their time, talents and treasures. They don’t expect any recognition. They do it because it’s the right thing to do… They’ve led the way.”

Former South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard ’75 echoes Staci’s sentiment. “Generous” is how he describes Linda and the entire family. He remembers Linda leading fundraising efforts not only for USD campaigns, but also in their work together at Children’s Home Society, helping to secure transformational gifts. He says the Mickelson family’s loyalty and commitment to causes they care about inspires others to do the same.

Max Mickelson in front of Mickelson Hall, part of USD's North Complex
Max Mickelson in front of Mickelson Hall, part of USD's North Complex

The Mickelson family legacy continues today as Max Mickelson (son of David and Val) is a sophomore at USD and vice president of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, as well as a member of the Honors program and president of the College Republicans.

Max says he did consider other colleges, but with the family legacy and USD’s political science department, it was a no brainer for him to choose USD. Still, he sometimes has mixed feelings about being a fourth generation Coyote.

“On the one hand, it’s pretty cool that I lived in the building that was named after my great grandfather,” he says. He’s also the fourth generation of Mickelsons to live in Lambda Chi. “But then I feel some pressure knowing that my family has achieved so much.”

As a student, Max tries to live by example by being active in campus organizations and helping others make connections. He’s taken advantage of the many opportunities the political science department and Farber Fund provide, such as interning at the state legislature and for U.S. Sen. John Thune.

Reflecting on his family legacy, Max hopes others are inspired by the Mickelsons’ contributions to USD through legislation, financial support and volunteering time.

“I think [my grandpa and great grandpa] would be proud. Especially my grandfather, he wrote about his experiences with USD at some length. He was so glad to be a Lambda Chi and at the University of South Dakota. I think he’d be proud that so many of us have followed in his footsteps.”