Wednesday , 17 January 2018
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Lily, South Dakota – A video memoir

Lily, South Dakota – A video memoir

In 2010, I received an unusual call from a woman in Southern California. She wanted to make a video to send to Oprah Winfrey as part of a contest. Oprah was looking for reasons to come to “hometowns” across the country as she wrapped up her network TV program. The video needed to be a video letter explaining the reasons why Oprah should visit. My new client, Laura, was originally from Lily, S.D., and had fond memories of growing up on a small farm just outside of town.

If you don’t know where Lily is, you’re not alone. Very few actually know that it is about 17 miles southeast of Bristol. There are still highway signs directing you there, but once you get there you may be a bit shocked. There’s not much there these days. In fact, over the course of corresponding with Laura and making the video, the population of Lily shrunk by 20 percent: The population was five, but one person died shortly after I started the project.

The beautifully restored Lutheran church, Lily, South Dakota

Finding information about these small farm towns is difficult. I should say, finding pictures of these towns is difficult. I located a very thick volume from the Alexander Mitchell Public Library in Aberdeen which had a city-by-city account of Day County. Then I went off to film in Lily. Had this been a different type of video, I would have interviewed all that lived there, but this video was intended to be Laura’s account of the town, so I just stuck to picturesque shots of the community.

Laura was fond of the churches, so I concentrated my shots on the Catholic church (pictured above) and the Lutheran church. Both were still proudly standing, but the Catholic church was gutted and boarded up. The Lutheran church, on the other hand, was spectacularly preserved inside and out by a historic group from Webster. Other buildings and houses were still there, but in two separate trips there, I only saw one woman and talked to her for a bit. In fact she drove me over to the Catholic church because, believe or not, I couldn’t find it.

My dad and I wandered around Lily on foot, shooting anything that looked interesting. Then I wrote a short script from Laura’s point of view and my staff edited the video together. Once we put it on YouTube and Laura started spreading the word, we got a lot of calls and emails about it. Lily did have a heyday, like most every town, and all those people from there are still somewhere, remembering their little hometown that is nearly vacant. It would be tough for Lily to rebound in population from only four, but its quintessential rural spot, huge blue skies, bright green grass are very attractive when contrasting a metropolitan setting.

The post office in Lily is closed, but now serves as a memorial room. In it is memorabilia from the high school, trophies, plaques and pictures. I was very excited when I met someone who was willing to get me in there to film. Alas, there was no electricity in the building, so I couldn’t use my movie lights. Subsequently, I didn’t get much.

Enjoy the short little film. And take a drive through Lily. Or, stop your car and just walk around a bit.

Make a video about your town

Class reunions are a great way to try to stay in touch with people who used to live in your hometown. In between those gatherings, little videos like this Lily video are a great way to reach out to former residents. This video has been viewed more than 1,000 times — not bad for a community that never grew higher than 600 in population. Another video created by my company for a train depot canteen in Aberdeen has received more than 21,000 views in a couple months. And as you can see, this video is mostly still photos, so most computer users could create something similar. What are some historic, nostalgic aspects of your town? What do you remember? Find some pictures, record a voice over and link together a video using a basic video program. It’s pretty easy. Post it to YouTube, input some key words so people will find it, then send us your work so we can link to it as well. Who knows what you’ll spark!

  • PMH

    I came across this video of Lily SD by accident. What a nice video. I was looking for information of a lady by the name of Eva C. Thompson buried in the Hillside Cemetery. She was born 1855 and died 1934. I would like to know how to find out more about her, as I am searching for a lost ancester with this same name and birthday.

  • Jim Westby

    Thanks!. The Westby family farm was five miles west of Lily. I now live in Los Angeles, and it was great to see this little video.


  • Alexa

    My great grandmother was born on the historical Barber farm in Lily. Stella Barber Duerre was her name. I always visit Lily when we have family reunions in SD.

  • This article was published in 2012 and I am the first responder here in August of 2015. Wow. Yes, I can feel how it must have been to grow up in Lily. I lived in isolated places like that in Utah and Idaho. It was mostly dull and boring. I was saved by my interest in school and love of reading.

    My mother was born in 1931 in the midst of the Depression and the Dust Bowl on a small farm near Lily. Lightning in Lily came through the radio in a giant ball and terrified my mother when she was a tot. The family has a picture of the three surviving children of Leo and Sylvia Lynch. The eldest, my uncle B, stood behind his two sisters R & P. Uncle B and the girls were framed in a screen door. The screen has a huge diagonal tear. Their clothes look like rags.

    My grandparents lost the farm. Eventually they moved to Detroit, hoping for work. They lived in a boxcar through the cold Michigan winters and sultry summers. My aunt P suffered from rickets due to a Vitamin B deficiency, something unheard-of now.My grandfather’s unremitting physical and emotional abuse forced my grandmother to divorce him in the late 1930s, a radical act for the times. She was shunned in her community. That was a shame. She was a dear sweet woman and a devoted mother. There were six children. Triplets, born at home in the South Dakota winter lived just a few days. But my mother, uncle, and aunt lived well into their 70s.

    My South Dakota Methodist-Catholic-convert grandmother Sylvia came to California after World War II as the bride of a man who grew up in Watts. They met as he passed through Michigan on his way home. Her teenage children, B, R, and P, living with Sylvia’s mother, came as Sylvia could send travel money to get them out to LA.

    We also have Michigan relatives and Minnesota relatives as well as South Dakotan relatives. The Mitchells from Michigan visited us in LA in the 1980s. They said, “If we would have known how nice it was here we would have moved a long time ago.” Now, with grown children and grandchildren settled nearby, the idea of moving west is no longer in their future. The Michigan Mitchells worked for Ford. He retired before the auto industry imploded.

    My grandmother was born Sylvia Mitchell. My grandmother was Leo Louis Lynch. My mother was Rose Iva Lynch. You can reach me at debocracy at My name is Deborah Lagutaris.

  • DakotahJohn58

    Lily is where my Dad Served as Lutheran Minister from November of 1976 until he suddenly died of a Heart Attack in May of 1978.
    His funeral drew an Overflow crowd that spilled out of the small Lutheran Church.
    The Reception was at the American Legion Hall. As long as the Railroad ran through the Town, Lily continued to function as a Community, with both Churches still going into the Late 70’s.
    Most of the School-Aged Children attended either Bristol or Webster Schools,
    A few students from just South or West of Lily attended Bradley School until Bradley graduated its Final Graduates in 1977.
    Former Senator and Vice-President Humphrey once Lived with his Parents above the Drug Store on Main Street, just West and south of the Tracks.

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