George McGovern was a Democratic powerhouse in South Dakota politics -- so much so state Democrats decided ten years ago that instead of a Jefferson-Jackson dinner, they would have an annual McGovern Day.
McGovern died Sunday morning at the age of 90.
"I think he's become a legend," Judy Olson Duhamel, a former state senator, said of her friend and colleague.
His name was synonymous with state politics as far back as the late '50s when he was first elected to congress in South Dakota, building the state Democratic party from the ground up along the way.
"Just a fearless, charismatic, genuine South Dakotan," recalled Mike Wilson, the current chairman of the Pennington County Democratic Party.
In the early '60s he was appointed by President Kennedy to be the first director of the Food for Peace program.
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, he would go on to serve three terms.
"He remembered where he came from," Wilson said.
McGovern's political career moved to the national stage early.
In 1965, he came out in strong opposition to the Vietnam War, despite his decorated military service as a bomber pilot in World War II.
"He didn't falter," Duhamel said. "He didn't flip-flop."
But his real political notoriety came about during his presidential run in 1972, when he lost to Richard Nixon.
His bids to be the Democratic nominee two other times also failed.
"Rather than whine or complain or be negative, he looked at the good things he could do for others," said Duhamel.
After leaving the Senate in '81, McGovern turned his attention to humanitarian causes, becoming a U.N. ambassador focusing on hunger issues from 1998 to 2001.
"What his achievements are," said Wilson, "really transcend party politics."
Bill Clinton, who campaigned for McGovern in '72, awarded the senior statesman the presidential medal of freedom in 2000 and attended the 2006 dedication of the McGovern library in Mitchell.
"Even those who disagreed strongly on philosophical views became his admirers," Duhamel said.
And McGovern kept writing books, authoring more than a dozen in all, including one released just last year.
"I don't think any South Dakotan ever has achieved more than George McGovern," Wilson said.
McGovern and his wife Eleanor were married 64 years. She died in 2007.
They are survived by three of their five children.