MITCHELL, S.D. — Former South Dakota state legislator Lance Carson died Wednesday, Oct. 14, after a brief battle with COVID-19. He was 74.
Carson was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives in 2007 and served for eight years. He represented District 20, which covers Jerauld, Davison and Aurora counties.
Tona Rozum, a former state lawmaker who served alongside Carson as a representative of District 20, spoke in high regard of Carson on Thursday, Oct. 15, in a phone interview with Forum News Service.
“I don’t even know where to start with him,” Rozum began, remembering Carson had not only taken her under his wing during their time as state lawmakers, but provided mentorship to others within the Mitchell community.
“What a lot of people don’t really know about him is all the stuff he did quietly,” Rozum said. “In Mitchell, he was a force. We have the rodeo because of Lance Carson. When he saw something that needed to be done, he pursued it, he went after it. He was often a one man show.”
Rozum said she often relied on Carson for guidance when voting on issues during legislative sessions.
“He wasn’t unfair about where the needs were. Definitely a fiscal conservation but so logical, wanted to solve issues, it wasn’t 'my way or the highway.' He could compromise and was a good problem solver. Everyone of them would say that he was a force. When he stood up to talk everyone just shut up and to listen to him. Because he didn’t do it often,” Rozum recalled.
“I wouldn’t have made it without him, he was the best mentor in process and with the things that you should do, the things that you don’t need to do and why. All in all, he was just such a mentor to a whole lot of people.”
Rozum said Carson had his first heart attack in his 30s and had underlying health issues at the time of his death.
“If you knew his history, he had his first heart attack in his 30s. He served in Vietnam,” Rozum said. “He’s gone through a lot, he would be the last guy you’d ever want to get COVID because of all the underlying issues at the time.”
Carson had health battles throughout his life, showing a continued toughness that his peers admired. He had multiple heart attacks, including that first one at age 38, and in later years wore a heart pump around his waist. He missed time in legislative sessions, dealing with a blood infection in 2013, and in 2017, Carson beat influenza and pneumonia illnesses, including a period where he said he was on life support and lost 25 pounds.
Rozum said she last saw Carson two weeks ago at a meeting, and said the 74-year-old wore masks while in public, something she wishes more people would do, as well.
“You shouldn’t have to tell people to wear masks in public. If you’re going to mandate it, you really have to fund the mandate,” Rozum said. “Some people just don’t think past themselves and try to search things out to support whatever it is, their political views.”
A native of Nunda, Carson graduated from Rutland High School and Southern State Teachers College in Springfield. Carson served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. When he returned, he bought a gas station and auto repair shop in Brookings. In 1979, he and his wife, Donna, moved to Mitchell and opened Lance’s Interstate Amoco, a business he would run for 25 years.
Carson said that he never dreamed about running for state legislator but was encouraged to do so by friends. When he got to Pierre, Carson helped develop a meth treatment program at the South Dakota Women’s Prison, helped set the table for the state’s criminal justice reform in 2013, and also served for many years on the House Appropriations Committee.
In Mitchell, he was known for his continued advocacy for the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, joining the committee in 1984 and eventually serving as the committee’s chairman. Carson helped expand the rodeo from three days to four and helped build up events around the July community tradition, including the rodeo mixer, chili cook-off and kids day. He was also involved in a number of civic organizations, including serving as a trustee at Dakota Wesleyan University, and as the chairman of the South Dakota State Fair Board.
Earlier this year, he was one of the supporters behind an effort to have a parade to recognize COVID-19 essential workers in Mitchell. The event was ultimately canceled, but he said it was a reminder of the work that still surrounded fighting the virus.