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October 13, 2023

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — Three South Dakota communities — Custer, Freeman and Mitchell — were each presented with a 2023 Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award during the Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion Annual Partners Meeting held Thursday, Oct. 12. The award is recognition for their accomplishments in health improvement initiatives within their respective communities.

“We are pleased to present these communities with the 2023 Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award,” said Laura Jackson, Wellmark’s executive vice president, health equity, access & improvement. “The work that has been done within these communities is to be celebrated. And because this work is so important, Custer, Freeman and Mitchell will also each receive $5,000 to continue improving the physical, social and emotional well-being of their community.”


Some noteworthy achievements in Custer, winners of the award in 2019 and 2020, include:

  • Expanding access to healthy foods in their community with the creation of a new community garden with 22 garden beds at the local school. The community garden is accessible for those of all abilities.
  • Offering healthy cooking classes for the community to expand residents' education surrounding healthy eating habits and nutrition information.
  • Increased the number of community volunteers and youth involvement, building social connectedness.

“This award is a significant achievement for our community, and it enables us to continue to raise awareness among community members about the many ways they can improve their lives with simple options to move more and eat healthier,” said Peg Ryan, Custer city councilperson. “The award also helps to motivate and inspire our committee volunteers to continue to promote new ideas for engaging community members in these activities.”


Some noteworthy achievements in Freeman include:

  • Increased safety and walkability in Freeman with upgraded sidewalks that include zero-grade curbing, adding a crosswalk and four-way stop.
  • Relocating a farmers' market for increased access to healthy foods.
  • Promoting bicycle safety and physical activity by hosting a bike rodeo for local youth that included a helmet distribution.

“The Healthy Hometown Community award is an acknowledgement of our community’s desire to create a quality of life that impacts the physical health and emotional well-being of our residents and guests in a positive way,” said Carol Eisenbeis, marketing and development coordinator with the city of Freeman. “It’s empowering to know that intentional efforts put into motion are noticed as making a difference and it’s our hope that will build momentum for continued efforts.”


Some noteworthy achievements in Mitchell include:

  • Increasing education of and access to healthy foods by hosting monthly cooking events at the food pantry.
  • Encouraging physical activity by providing free gym memberships and adding an after school fitness program.
  • Implementing a blood pressure monitoring program that positively impacted more than 200 local residents, providing educational information on hypertension and healthy lifestyle choices.

“For years, we have been trying to rewrite our approach to community health and wellness programming and this award gives us the validation that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Thomas Gulledge, recreation coordinator for the city of Mitchell. “We will use these funds to purchase additional fitness equipment that will support our youth diabetes and obesity prevention program.”

The Healthy Hometown Powered by Wellmark Community Award celebrates the successes achieved by these three communities to make South Dakota a healthier, more active place to live. To find out more information about this initiative, visit