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'See a Need, Fill a Need'

Howard and Eunice Hovland’s love for education and passion for giving inspired a philanthropic legacy that today provides sustaining support for local nonprofits and causes.

You don’t have to fight villains, or stop moving trains, or save the multiverse to be a superhero.

Howard and Eunice Hovland were proof of that.

“Heroes come in a lot of different shapes and sizes,” said Bob Kiner, a friend of the couple and former interim superintendent for the Sioux Falls School District. “Howard and Eunice were heroes of spirit and of love. They lived their lives so others could be successful — and that’s amazing.”

Known for their leadership and dedication to education, their compassion and care for their students, and their extraordinary generosity, the Hovlands touched thousands of lives during their lifetimes and left a lasting legacy that continues to shape our community in meaningful ways.

We caught up with friends, relatives and former colleagues to learn more about this special couple and the impact they made on so many.

Humble beginnings

Born and raised in small communities with Norwegian roots, Howard and Eunice met as students at Augustana University. They married after graduation and began their teaching careers in Hartford, South Dakota. Their love for their Norwegian heritage, as well as a shared passion for historic preservation, continued throughout their lives.

A commitment to service

A WWII veteran, Howard’s passion for service and volunteerism grew during civilian life. He and Eunice served on numerous boards, supported various civic organizations, and were active in their church. They also opened their hearts and their home to help others in need.

“Since they didn’t have a family of their own, I think they thought of their students as their family,” said Helen Dice, a friend of the couple and a retired teacher who taught with Eunice for two decades. “In that regard, they had a big family, indeed.”

Later in their lives, the couple’s family grew again when they stepped forward to care for Eunice’s brother, Allen, after their parents were killed in a tragic car accident.

“They had such a caring nature and they were so compassionate toward people,” Dice said.

A sense of adventure and a can-do spirit

As a couple, friends and relatives say, Howard and Eunice were fearless. From building a home by hand, to navigating the Boundary Waters, learning Sign Language, traveling abroad, and more, “they were so ambitious,” remembers Dice. “They would tackle anything.” Case in point: Joel Eide, Eunice's brother, recalled that while teaching in Hartford, Howard agreed to coach the school’s basketball team, even though he’d never played the sport.

“The team did very well because Howard was a very inspiring person,” Eide said. “Neither Howard nor Eunice ever backed down from a challenge,” he said. “In fact, they challenged each other.”

A passion for education

Howard and Eunice “saw the need for good education, so they challenged and encouraged each other to pursue education as a vocation,” Eide said. Over the course of three decades, Howard and Eunice each built meaningful teaching careers that eventually came together through a shared passion for adult education.

After teaching in Hartford and at the South Dakota School for the Deaf, the couple joined the Sioux Falls School District where, in collaboration, they created the state’s first Adult Literacy Basic Education Program, serving thousands of students in what is today the Hovland Learning Center, located on the campus of Southeast Technical College. Throughout their careers, they served on an array of boards and committees dedicated to advancing adult education and also received many awards for their work.

Eunice Hovland works with adult learners in Sioux Falls.

In 1998, they were inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame for their life-long devotion to education. Their Hall of Fame nomination summarized their efforts and achievements: “(Howard and Eunice) maintain that learning is a continuous process and that everyone is entitled to have an opportunity to utilize the investment of our educational facilities. Doors were opened to adults by providing flexible schedules and by minimizing the barriers of age and grade levels to meet the needs of people in our communities. Their adeptness in guiding, encouraging and stimulating affected countless lives … through the concentrated efforts and teamwork of Eunice and Howard, adult education grew and flourished in Sioux Falls and in South Dakota.”

Howard Hovland receives the 1968-69 Missouri Valley Adult Education Association Leadership Award. (Submitted photos)

Bob Kiner knew the Hovlands well during his time with the Sioux Falls School District.

“They were people who had great hearts. In the world of adult education, Howard was highly respected and a great leader and Eunice was one of the kindest, most encouraging teachers I’ve ever worked with. She worked with people in such a quiet, wonderful way,” Kiner said. “Howard and Eunice dedicated so much of their lives to working with people who didn’t have much of a break in life — adults who needed a little extra care and encouragement to learn how to read, how to do basic math, and how to navigate life lessons to prepare for a job in the workplace.”

Kiner recalled one example where a 57-year-old man who had worked in the custodial industry came to his office after losing his job.

“He broke down, explaining that he was unable to get another job because he couldn’t read,” Kiner said. “I introduced him to Eunice. She sat him down and in her calm and wonderful way said, ‘I can help you.’ She taught him how to read and eventually he was able to get another job. That forever changed his life — he regained his dignity and his sense of well-being.”

The Hovlands, Kiner said, were always looking for ways they could help. “Howard once said to me, ‘I’ve tried to see the need and fill the need.’ That really encapsulates who Howard and Eunice were. They saw needs of all kinds — including people who needed a boost in life in terms of their education — and they worked to fill those needs,” he said.

A desire to give back

Friends and relatives say philanthropy was central to Howard and Eunice’s life together. Beyond giving of their time and ideas, they also made generous financial contributions to establish scholarships and support local nonprofits and causes that aligned with their passions.

“They often said they didn’t need money for themselves, so they were passionate about giving back,” Dice remembers.

The couple also loved music and believed that learning to play an instrument and create harmonies in song offered valuable life lessons. Their belief in the power of music inspired a gift to help launch what is today Harmony South Dakota, a nonprofit dedicated to building young leaders through music.

The Hovlands worked with the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation to establish a number of different charitable funds during their lifetimes. They also donated a portion of their estate to the Foundation, creating an endowment that provides support to the nonprofits and causes that meant the most to the couple, including Children’s Home Society, REACH Literacy, LifeScape and Augustana University.

A lasting legacy

While the Hovlands have passed on (Eunice in 2019 and Howard in 2020), their legacy endures — impacting people and families and serving as an inspiration for all of us, said Mary Kolsrud, the Community Foundation’s vice president for philanthropy.

“Through their work, through their kindness, and through their generosity, Howard and Eunice made a difference in the lives of so many,” Kolsrud said. “Thanks to their foresight and philanthropic planning, we have the honor of helping to continue their life’s work through charitable giving that reflects their passion and values. What a beautiful thing to witness and what an inspiration for us all.”