Tom Sannes, born and raised in Webster, is willing to do anything to improve his community. After earning a law degree and serving in the Army, he decided to return and make Webster his home.
by Amanda Fanger, Reporter and Farmer
“I’ve always wanted to return. I enjoy the people, the environment, the lifestyle. Knowing that I wanted to return helped shape my decisions,” said Tom Sannes. “It all came together very well for me. I can’t complain. I’ve been lucky.”
Sannes, born in Webster in 1971, the son of Roger and Kathy Sannes, is the fourth generation of his family to live in Webster. He graduated from Webster Area High School in 1989 and, knowing his parents couldn’t afford to pay for his postsecondary education, he received an ROTC scholarship which paid for his four-year degree at South Dakota State University and part of his law degree from the University of South Dakota.
After that, Sannes joined the military, serving on active duty for 11 years, obtaining the rank of major and working as a JAG officer. Sannas served in Bosnia and Korea and was stationed in California, Washington, DC and Fort Riley, Kan., to name a few. He was also in nuclear biological decontamination for a while.
“NBD was not a popular job,” he said.
Sannes said that it was during his time in the military that he began to believe, “that people in the Midwest, our work ethic cannot be beat,” he said. “We work harder, and not only that, we work smarter!”
He said that while he was in the military, there was another man from North Dakota. “They called us the Dakota boys,” he said. “When it came to getting things done, everyone came to us.”
Also, there were over 1,300 people who applied for 100 openings in the JAG program. Sannes saw he was going up against people who had graduated from ivy league schools such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford.
“I’ll tell you one thing, my education was just as good if not better than theirs,” he said. “And I graduated from Webster Area, SDSU and NSU.”
He said it’s what you put into it that counts.
It wasalso during his 11 years in the military that Sannes met his wife Angie, who is originally from Langford.
“Okay, so here’s the crazy thing,” Sannes said with a laugh. “We grew up 20 miles apart and never crossed paths. We met at Fort Riley 530 miles away from home. That just tells you that some things are meant to be.”
Together they have four children: Caleb, 10; Gavin, 8; Erin, 6; and Karli, 4.
Sannes said that he wanted to be an attorney so he could be his own boss and pick and choose where he wanted to work.
“As a kid, I always liked to read and argue about things. (Being an attorney) was a natural fit,” he said.
While growing up, there was another attorney in Webster who Sannes looked up to. Also a family friend, Elmer Engebretson spent a lot of holidays with Sannes’ family.
“When I was in the eighth grade, I remember I was worried about wanting to become a lawyer,” Sannes began. He said he went to Engebretson with his worries. “I don’t remember how I worded the question, but I was worried that all the laws were already passed that needed to be passed. I just remember him laughing at my question and saying something like, ‘if only you knew what you are saying.’ Then he told me that he thought there would always be work for me (as a lawyer).”
Engebretson used to tell Sannes, “for every law they pass, they should have to take two off the books.”
For income as a youth, Sannes mowed lawns in the summer and shoveled sidewalks in the winter.
“I think that’s why half the town still calls me Tommy,” he said with a laugh. “It’s just funny that I have done all this (active military, etc.) and people still call me Tommy.”
Sannes decided to come home in 2001. “I enjoyed what I was doing but it was the time to come back,” he said.
When Sannes returned to Webster, he added his name to the law office in town now known as Delaney, Nielsen & Sannes.
“I had interned for them for a while while I was in school,” he said. “They were always very good for me. They gave me an opportunity.”
What made him want to return to Webster, Sannes said was, “The people. Most definitely the people. It’s the quality of life you have here.”
Sannes says that he’s had opportunities to leave the community again, but now that he’s back he doesn’t want to leave.
“I’m at home,” he commented.
Sannes says he is a firm believer in his community and in volunteerism.
“I like to volunteer,” he said simply. “If you want to be a part of something, step up and do it.”
Sannes is involved in the Day County Community Foundation, the swimming pool project, the Webster Area Development Corporation, Bearcat Pledge and serves as a member of the Webster Area School Board.
“I’ll do anything to improve this community,” he said. “I think we have really done an awful lot – I think (Webster is) a strong community.”
Still, Sannes thinks there can always be room for improvement.
“It’s okay to look at yourself and want to improve,” he said. “I think we have to keep improving. If you’re not improving, you’re standing still and therefore falling behind.”
No matter what, Sannes says the grass will always be greener on the other side, but added, “I just want to see our area excel. I enjoy following graduates of Webster Area and seeing where they’re at all over the U.S., how they’re succeeding.”
Sannes commented that leaving the area was one of the best things he did in order to diversify himself. Looking back, he says he would do it all again.