Dr. Elden Lawrence, former SWC president and scholar, passes on

Jul 9th, 2014 | By | Category: Online TC News, Tribal College News, Web Exclusive

Elden Eugene Lawrence, 1936-2014

Dr. Elden Eugene Lawrence (Dakota), former president of Sisseton Wahpeton College (SWC, Sisseton, SD) passed away this past Fourth of July. He was 77.

Lawrence was born in 1936 on the Sisseton Wahpeton Indian Reservation in eastern South Dakota. He came from a large family, having 10 siblings, nine of whom were brothers. As a boy, he learned to hunt for subsistence. Educated locally, he eventually transferred to the Flandreau Indian School. In 1953, he enlisted in the U.S. Army where he served for eight years, earning the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Occupation Medal.

Lawrence eventually would pursue a higher education in an effort to uplift himself, his family, and his tribe. Always a hard worker, he earned a 4.0 grade point average during his associate of arts curriculum at what was then called Sisseton Wahpeton Community College. He later transferred to Moorhead State University, where he took his B.A. in human services, and the University of South Dakota, where he earned a master’s degree in public administration. In 1999, he completed his Ph.D. in rural sociology at South Dakota State University.

In the ensuing years, Dr. Lawrence served in a variety of leadership and academic positions. He taught sociology at SWC, was a professor of ethnic studies at Minnesota State University, and was appointed president of SWC. He authored four books, including, The Peace Seekers: The Indian Christians and the Dakota Conflict (2005), Stories and Reflections from an Indian Perspective (2008), Stepping Off the Keelboat (2013), and Stories and Reflections from an Indian Perspective, Volume 2 (forthcoming). He also authored numerous scholarly journal articles and book chapters. Outside of academe, Lawrence served two terms as a tribal council member and was appointed as tribal secretary of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe.

Current SWC president, Harvey DuMarce, remembered Lawrence as a down-to-earth and humble man who enjoyed humor, playing the guitar, and old-time country music. But DuMarce also remembered Dr. Lawrence as an exceptional scholar and leader who selflessly served his people and saved SWC when the college’s future was at stake. “He was a historian in the finest sense of the word.  I consider him the foremost expert in Dakota history and culture,” DuMarce stated.

Lawrence believed that history must tell its own story, stating, “We can’t create history in our own image, according to how we would like it to be. The truth in history is for those who are willing to spend the time and make the effort to find it.”

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