That's the Spirit: Love Letters to Yankton

February 14, 2024

Downstream from Gavins Point Dam and Lewis and Clark Lake in southeastern South Dakota, Yankton is known as the "River City" due to its proximity to the Missouri River, affectionately called the "Muddy Mo" by locals. In the 1870s, the city's settlement brought steamboats and their captains, and a bishop by the name of Martin Marty, who recruited the Benedictine Sisters to establish a nursing school and all-girls academy high on the hill above the river. In 1936, Mother Jerome Schmitt and her sisters founded Mount Marty College, continuing the city's historical development.

"Love Letters to Yankton" is a collection of interviews with Lancers who were once new to the community and celebrates the affection our growing community shares for the city in which we live.

"It seems like the cold weather here makes the people in town very warm and welcoming," said Ken Gay II, a third-year business student and quarterback at Mount Marty. Despite the cooler temperatures, the Gretna, La., native says volunteering within the community has helped him build a family away from Louisiana.

"I feel connected to the town of Yankton because of the relationships I have made here," he said. "Volunteering at the elementary schools, the humane society, youth football camps, and our outreach day at Mount service allows me to meet new people here."

While Gay says his favorite time of the year is seeing the community come together for River Boat Days, he likes to bring family and friends to visit Crane Youngworth Field on game days. 

"Kids coming to Mount Marty football games really makes my heart happy," said Gay. "Seeing people in the stands gives me extra motivation and great spirit."

Regular faces in those stands are alumni basketball players Jeff and Lisa Wolfgram, who, after Lisa got accepted to the physical therapy program at the University of South Dakota, moved back to Yankton in 1995.

At the time, Jeff headed into an interview with First Dakota National Bank—not because of anything he did, but because Lisa's assistant basketball coach at Mount Marty, Tom Roberts, had a sister-in-law who worked at First Dakota and knew of an opening in the Dakota MAC Department, where Jeff has now worked for over 28 years. 

"That is a story that comes to mind about Yankton," Wolfgram said. "But more so about how Mount Marty not only cares about you during your time on campus but also after you graduate."

According to Wolfgram, Yankton's "hidden gem" is the people—like Coach Roberts. "I am regularly humbled by the amount of people in this community who are genuinely concerned with my well-being, and unselfishly putting my priorities ahead of theirs," he said. "There is a certain groundswell of fellowship that takes place."

That same sense of fellowship, proximity to family and the river, and a job teaching psychology at Mount Marty were draws Dr. Jennifer Cliff and her family couldn't pass up when the opportunity to move back to Yankton presented itself.

"[The] hospitality, kindness, and caring that is characteristic in our community is not found in all places," she said. "Those are pieces that make our community a special place."

That Yankton hospitality takes shape in many different forms, too. According to Dr. Cliff, it's most notable in the community resources available to residents—from volunteers who pack school lunches for food-insecure families to supporting those who need assistance with housing, mental health, domestic violence, adult education, and language services.

"Our community members see a need and fill a need," said Dr. Cliff, adding that how the community and university come together is unlike any place she's lived.

"Yankton thrives on supporting each other to live out the passion each of us has," she said. "We celebrate the unique gifts that community members possess."

Mount Marty student and volleyball player Alyssa Keiser knows this best.

"After my first campus visit, I immediately knew this was where I wanted to go," she said. "Everyone accepted me and gave me so many new opportunities."

This eventually led Keiser to start her own business.

"I express all of my emotions through music that I write and perform all around Yankton. I started my own business of live music and have continued to successfully play almost every weekend in new local and non-local locations."

It's a business she says has skyrocketed thanks to the ongoing support of this community. "Everyone here wants me to succeed and find happiness," and that's a love worth celebrating.





Founded in 1936 by the Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery, Mount Marty University is South Dakota's only Catholic institution of higher education. Located along the bluffs of the Missouri River in Yankton, with additional locations in Watertown and Sioux Falls, Mount Marty offers undergraduate and graduate degrees focusing on student and alumni success in high-demand fields such as health sciences, education, criminal justice, business, accounting, and more. A community of learners in the Benedictine tradition, Mount Marty emphasizes academic excellence and develops well-rounded students with intellectual competence, professional and personal skills and moral, spiritual and social values. To learn more, visit