Sylvia Henkin dies at 96

May 1, 2016

Sylvia Henkin, the matriarch of Sioux Falls in many ways, died Monday at age 96.

A memorial service will begin at 4 p.m. May 14 at the Washington Pavilion. The family asks that memorials be directed to the South Dakota Symphony or LifeScape.

Henkin rose to prominence in the Sioux Falls business community at KSOO. She was the first female chair of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and helped establish the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“She really was a tremendous woman, and she was a pioneer in so many different areas. She was an icon of Sioux Falls,” former Mayor Dave Munson said.

“People liked to be around Sylvia because she had a positive attitude. She made you feel at ease. And she was really talented. She was involved in a lot of things that made Sioux Falls a better place.”

Comparing Henkin to Hattie Phillips as a pioneer of developing Sioux Falls, Munson praised her for broad range of community involvement.

“She was a good one. She really had the pulse of the community and did so many things,” he said. “She loved to sell this city.”

Henkin was a fixture at events for the Sioux Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau, where she often greeted groups and helped pitch Sioux Falls to visitors.

“When I first was hired at the CVB in 1983, she was one of the first people to come and talk to me,” executive director Teri Schmidt said. “From that point on, we’ve been very, very close. She was a mentor to me, no doubt, and without any doubt she was my second mom. There will be a hole in our community and in my heart for a long time.”

Known for her trademark singing, Henkin would belt out “I’m from Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” or “Hello Dolly” to groups, changing the words to fit the occasion.

“I don’t know of anybody who gave more of oneself than Sylvia,” Schmidt said. “I don’t know anybody who loved Sioux Falls more. She was so proud of this community and the people and just everything about Sioux Falls.”

Henkin symbolizes the spirit of Sioux Falls, past, present and future, said Evan Nolte, who worked with her for decades in his role as president of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Her natural personality and talent made her a dynamic ambassador for the city as well as our state,” he said. “In that important role, she possessed the talent and presence to positively influence and charm some of our country’s top corporate, media and governmental leaders at all levels as well as many other individuals that came her way in the course of her life and career.”

Nolte called working with Henkin as a his board chair a great opportunity and “a learning experience I will never forget or fail to appreciate.  We extend our appreciation to her family members for sharing her life with us as well as our deepest sympathies in her passing.”

Here’s what was written about Henkin when she was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 1993:

As an infant and youngster, Sylvia spent most of her time at Wolff Brothers, the family store in Sheldon, Iowa. Wolff Brothers was a chain of department stores all run by Wolff relatives. Since her father died when Sylvia was 5 months old, her older brothers helped raise her.

Sylvia’s first jobs were related to the family business.

During the late ’30s and early ’40s, she earned her private pilot’s license. Armed with her license, her job was to fly merchandise between all the Wolff Stores — 13 in all.

After college graduation, her brothers sent her on another mission. Her assignment was to go to Sioux Falls and take a look at KSOO Radio.

The store was advertising on KSOO, and the family wanted to know if they were getting their money’s worth. On that day, Sylvia met Morton Henkin, her future husband. She soon joined her husband at KSOO. Her jobs were varied as the station grew and matured. She did everything from interviewing people on the air to handling management details.

In 1960, KSOO went into television. Sylvia did most of the paperwork and negotiating with the FCC for licensure. She was appointed director of public affairs for KSOO-TV Inc. She hosted “Party Line,” a local public affairs and interview program. She continued as the “Party Line” hostess until 1972 when KSOO and KABR-TV in Aberdeen were sold to South Dakota Broadcasting, and the family retained the radio stations.

When her husband died in 1974, Sylvia was left in charge of KSOO-KPAT FM Inc. With Sylvia running the show and her son, Joe, learning the business, KSOO grew in audience, advertising sales, staff and profits.

In 1990, Sylvia sold KSOO-KPAT FM. Beyond her years at KSOO-KPAT FM, Sylvia was an active leader in her community and state. She was a member of the board of directors of FirstBank of South Dakota; president of Junior Achievement Inc.; member of South Dakota Advisory Committee of the Small Business Administration; president of the board of the Karl E. Mundt Historical Educational Foundation; member of the board of directors of the South Dakota Symphony; University of South Dakota Foundation; and she was on the South Dakota Advisory Committee on Civil Rights.

She was the first and only woman to be appointed president of the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce and served as chairman and member of the chamber’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. She is currently or has been a member of the South Dakota State Chamber of Commerce; president of YWCA and member of the national board of YWCA; South Dakota Committee of Developmental Disabilities and countless other service, business, arts, music, and education and community development organizations.

Since 1975 she has been awarded at least 20 major awards. Beginning in 1975 with the YWCA Communications Person of the Year; 1978, Veteran’s Administration Commendation; 1980, South Dakota Broadcaster of the Year and United Way Good Person of the Year; 1981, Community Playhouse Award from the Campaign Fund Drive of that year; 1982, Citizen of the Year from the South Dakota Association of Social Services and Lincoln High School’s Service to Music Award; 1985, South Dakota Advertising Federation’s Silver Medal for her contributions in furthering the industry’s standard of excellence and responsibility in areas of special concern, and she was the first recipient of a special award from the South Dakota Bar Association for contributions for improvement in public understanding of the South Dakota court system through TV and the news media.

The lists of awards and accomplishments of this business leader and community servant are numerous. Each award was given for her many, many hours of work in service to the community, state and mankind in general. Sylvia Henkin has achieved a level of success both professionally and personally that personifies a true pioneer leader in the state of South Dakota.


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Sylvia Henkin dies at 96

Sylvia Henkin, the matriarch of Sioux Falls in many ways, has died at age 96.

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