This year I have mentioned several Keystone people who left this world before their time. I was very saddened to hear of the recent passing of Dallas Dietrich (Rattlesnake Jake). Dallas spent a lot of his life trying to make the world a better place for others, but he still had years to go and I’m sure had lots more in mind that he wanted to accomplish.
Dallas and Mary were a large part of the tourism scene in Keystone for 27 years, operating Rattlesnake Jake’s, Annie’s and Good Tyme Photo in the Keystone Mall. Dallas was wheelchair-bound and passed his days in the stores visiting with customers, answering questions and inviting them to examine the contents of the little box he held in his hands. Next would come shrieks of shock and laughter as a furry missile sprang out at them. People loved it, but I think the prank got rather tiresome for staff as Dallas repeated the surprise many times a day over the years.
Customers didn’t forget, though. Dallas and Mary were remembered at Christmas time with cards and letters and repeat visits during the summer. At the photo shop, bikers could have themselves pictured with their bike using a variety of South Dakota backgrounds – like being in the middle of a buffalo herd – or maybe costumed and standing next to an old gangster car complete with bullet holes. It was fun for everyone.
Dallas was active in community affairs which concerned residents and often advocated for changes when he thought there might be a better solution. It was common to see Dallas at city meetings, sometimes arriving alone in his pickup with the familiar wheelchair lift attached. Nothing seemed to slow him down if he was on a mission.
Former Rapid City residents, the Dietrichs bought the ghost town of Otho outside of Keystone in 1998 and over time converted the old mining camp into a handicapped-accessible resort called “Meeting the Need,” so others without the use of their limbs could enjoy the outdoor beauty of the Black Hills, too. Both Dallas and Mary enjoyed their life at Otho, where Mary became the strong supporter who helped Dallas carry on his dream while also volunteering in a local cat rescue, where some of the unwanted occasionally wound up as family members. Dallas became very proficient in “cat-speak.”
Prior to this, Dallas and Mary owned Adventure Sport, both at Rapid City and Spearfish locations.
As a volunteer, Dallas was a leader in the Rapid City School System, helping to activate the junior achievment program and was named Volunteer of the Year in South Dakota in 1985 by Gov. George Mickelson. Dallas founded the annual Ski for Light program and became a dedicated leader for the event. President George H.W. Bush picked this program in 1990 as one of Bush’s 1000 Points of Light across America.
Dallas was invited to attend the signing of the resulting Americans With Disabilities Act, which was the culmination of President Bush’s effort to recognize and work with those who faced major challenges in their lives.
In 2006, Gov. Mike Rounds named Dallas as the state’s Outstanding Citizen With a Disability. I don’t think Dallas ever considered himself to be handicapped. His always-ready smile didn’t let you really realize what a horrible accident he had survived during that awful blizzard that took the lives of the couple’s two adult children.
I talked with Mary on Monday. She said that at Dallas’s funeral — Nov. 3, at Rapid City’s Blessed Sacrament Cathedral —was overflowing with some coming from other towns and states to pay their respects. On the day Dallas died, Mary said that he was nearly finished completing his usual morning rituals with no signs of distress. She found him a short time later, slumped in his wheelchair. The cats, she added, were immediately aware that something tragic had happened.
Mary is strong, but right now she is devastated and says she is uncertain about her plans for the future. She says the main thing she would like to see for Dallas is that people “don’t forget him.”
Dallas was 68. His parents, son, Deric, and daughter, Dawn, preceded him in death. He is survived by Mary and his sisters, two who live in Minot, N.D., and one who lives in San Francisco, Calif.