Mr. South Dakota

Courtesy photo: Raymond Peterson, center, is shown celebrating the 70th anniversary of Miss South Dakota with many of the former Miss South Dakota titleholders in Hot Springs. The 73rd annual Miss South Dakota competition moves to Brookings this year, and it remains under the direction of Peterson after 53 years.

Raymond Peterson producing Miss South Dakota competition for 53 years

BROOKINGS – There aren’t many who can compete with the list of achievements and awards Raymond Peterson has earned throughout his life. 

The 2018 South Dakota Hall of Fame inductee had been a director of theater and set design for 40 years at South Dakota State University, is a Vietnam veteran, and is best known for his 53 years of production for the Miss South Dakota scholarship program. 

For the first time, the competition is now calling Brookings home, with Miss South Dakota 2019 candidates rehearsing and competing at the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center this week, as well as the next two years.

For Peterson, his involvement in the show was a natural progression. The Oldham native was enamored with singing and musical performance at an early age at his church and sought every opportunity he could to do some kind of performance. 

“From day one, I have always had that inner-need to be productive,” Peterson said. “My love of music and theater made me continue. You don’t have a lot of other options in a small town.” 

In 1969, Peterson was a sophomore in college at General Beadle State College (majoring in “extracurricular activities”) when the pageant’s then-producer stepped down. 

“There were a lot of things I thought could be done better, and there I saw my opportunity,” Peterson said.

Peterson was so involved with being the pageant’s director and producer that when he served as a U.S. Army transportation specialist in Vietnam in 1970, he wrote the show for the following year during his spare time.

There wasn’t a portion of the event Peterson did not oversee. He selected music (many of which were his own compositions), themes, costumes, dance routines and scripts, and designed the set for the show in whatever gymnasium – or in 1985, in a saloon – they could find.

“I have always loved a good challenge, and those have always motivated me to try that much harder,” Peterson said in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2018. “Challenges became a way of life.”

In addition to his production career for Miss South Dakota, he’s judged pageants in 43 other states, and served on the executive board of directors for the pageant. 

He accomplished his career in pageantry entirely as a volunteer.

On top of all of that, Peterson worked as designer and technical director for SDSU for 40 years, during which he created, wrote, designed, performed and directed several hundred musicals and theater productions. 

He also served as a judge for several South Dakota High School Activities Association speaking and performing competitions over 50 years.

Peterson, who has lived in Brookings for several decades, says he is immensely proud to have the 2019 Miss South Dakota competition in Brookings. 

The event had been in Hot Springs for the past 72 years, which is the oldest host-city franchise in the nation.

Peterson had always loved driving out to Hot Springs every year, but he felt a certain satisfaction in knowing the competition was “coming home.”

To get the chance to see Peterson and his work in action, head to the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center today through Saturday. Miss South Dakota preliminary competitions are today and Friday, with the finals set for Saturday, all starting at 7 p.m. 

The Miss South Dakota’s Outstanding Teen competition will be held today and Friday in conjunction with the Miss South Dakota competition.

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Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected]


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