‘Life is a Series of Adventures’
South Dakota Sen. Craig Tieszen earned a degree in chemical engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.
Then he joined the Peace Corps.
“I sometimes tell people I got off track when I graduated from college and decided to go the Peace Corps route,” he said.
He had a job offer to be a “real engineer” upon his college graduation, and always thought he eventually would turn toward engineering.
Tieszen spent four years as a high school science teacher in Kenya with the Peace Corps. When he returned to Rapid City, he redirected his career path … to law enforcement.
“When I got back, I decided to try another adventure,” he said. “Life is a series of adventures.”
The new adventure with the Rapid City Police Department lasted 32 years, culminating in a stint as chief for the last seven years. When he retired about five years ago, he looked for something new and turned to politics.
“I like to be where the action is. I like to be where decisions are made and I like to be part of making those decisions,” Tieszen said.
As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tieszen was part of a big decision this year when the legislature passed a criminal justice reform bill—a fundamental shift in policy for the state.
“It was enjoyable being part of that,” he said, “knowing that we’ve changed course in the way we handle corrections and criminal justice in South Dakota.”
But Tieszen knows it’s not just the major change legislation that matters.
“The 500 other bills we address every year, … they’re important to somebody,” he said. “It’s easy, I think, sometimes when you get something that looks pretty mundane to gloss over it pretty quickly. But you have to keep reminding yourself that every bill is important to somebody.”
While Tieszen is enjoying his latest adventure in the legislature, he notes that the lack of consensus building often harms the success—and the reputation—of those in government.
“If we had more statesmen who concentrated on consensus building, we’d have better government,” Tieszen said. “All of us in government suffer from the fact that we’re not held in high regard, that we’re not trusted, that people don’t believe we’re capable of tackling the tough issues.
“It boils down to statesmanship, where people are willing to make hard decisions and do the right thing,” he said.
Still, Tieszen knows that people can make a difference. He was reminded of that fact about three years ago when one of his former students in Kenya tracked him down.
The student, now a successful veterinarian, looked Tieszen up on the Internet and invited him over for a reunion with former students. Tieszen and his family—wife Debra and daughters Leslie Tieszen and Laura Kamarainen—traveled to the Kenyan village where he served in the Peace Corps.
“It was very inspirational,” Tieszen said. “I was able to see that not only are they successful, but they are having children that are being successful as well, so it was pretty cool.”
That showed him that you can make a difference, one person at a time, one family at a time.
“It was clear to me that I had made a difference in these students’ lives,” he said. “Many of them were successful in science and math fields so I could see I had had an impact on their success. The fact that they’re transmitting that to the next generation, … it’s a good sign.”