Throughout his life, George McGovern earned the respect of countless individuals from all political viewpoints and all walks of life.
From his days as a student at Dakota Wesleyan University throughout his long and distinguished career in public service, George McGovern never forgot his roots. He was born in Avon, S.D., on July 19, 1922, the son of a Wesleyan Methodist minister. The family moved to Mitchell, S.D., in 1928, and George graduated from Mitchell High School in 1940. He was an outstanding student, and his proficiency in debate won him a scholarship at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, where he enrolled in the fall of 1940. There he met fellow student Eleanor Stegeberg
of Woonsocket, S.D. George and Eleanor were married on Oct. 31, 1943, and their five children were all born in Mitchell.
As a college student, McGovern was twice elected class president and won the state oratorical contest with the topic "My Brother's Keeper," an avowal of his belief in one's responsibility to humankind.
World War II interrupted McGovern's education in 1943. He flew 35 combat missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in Europe, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the war he returned to Dakota Wesleyan University, graduating in 1946. McGovern then attended Garrett Seminary for one year before enrolling at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in American history and government.
McGovern returned to Dakota Wesleyan University in 1950 as a professor of history and political science, where he became a beloved and respected faculty member. He left the university in 1955 to reorganize and revitalize the South Dakota Democratic Party, from which his illustrious political career was launched. He was elected to Congress in 1956 and reelected in 1958. As a congressman, he was an advocate for the American farmer and represented the nation's heartland with distinction.
After McGovern lost his first bid for the U.S. Senate in 1960, President John F. Kennedy named him the first director of the Food for Peace Program and Special Assistant to the President. In this position he oversaw the donation of millions of tons of food to developing nations. McGovern was then elected to the Senate in 1962, and reelected in 1968 and 1974. As a member of the Senate committees on agriculture, nutrition, forestry and foreign relations, and the Joint Economic Committee, he led the way in expanding key nutrition programs.
In 1972, Sen. McGovern was selected as the Democratic Party nominee for president, the only South Dakotan so honored by any major political party.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford named McGovern a United Nations delegate to the General Assembly, and, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter named him a United Nations delegate for the Special Session on Disarmament. After leaving the Senate in 1980, McGovern was a visiting professor at numerous institutions, including Columbia University, Northwestern University, Cornell University, American University and the University of Berlin. He served as the president of the Middle East Policy Council from 1991 to 1998, when President Bill Clinton appointed him ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. In 2001, he was appointed the first United Nations global ambassador on hunger. In this position, McGovern continued his leadership in the battle against world hunger.
A prolific author, McGovern lectured at more than 1,000 colleges and universities around the world. He received many honorary degrees and distinguished awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, which was bestowed upon him by President Clinton on August 9, 2000.
On Oct. 21, 2012, McGovern died in Sioux Falls, S.D., at the age of 90.
He was preceded in death by his daughter Terry in 1994, his wife Eleanor in 2007, and his son, Stephen, in 2012.
A war hero, 22-year U.S. Congressman and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, George McGovern will long be remembered for his courage in speaking out against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, his friendship and respect for the common man, and his work on behalf of American farmers and hungry children throughout the world.