When he left office as Sioux Falls mayor, Yankton native Mike Huether had gained enough experiences to write a book — so he did.
Huether announced the release of his book, "Serve. Lead. Win!" during a press conference Wednesday in Sioux Falls. He will hold a book signing appearance from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Yankton Community Library.
"It’s my way of thanking the people of Yankton for all of their support while I was growing up and through the rest of my life’s journey," he said.
Huether’s book has been listed for purchase on the Amazon website, and hardcover and softcover books are hitting the market. The work is categorized as a leadership publication.
"I’ve been asked what have been the most meaningful sections of the book for me," he said. "I get emotional when I say it’s the first chapters about my early years, which laid the foundation for the rest of my life."
Huether spoke very candidly about painful moments growing up in Yankton in the 1970s. His parents had divorced and his mother raised the children at a time when divorce was frowned upon and even taboo in some circles. The family also struggled financially, but they shared food with neighbors who had even less, he said.
However, Huether said he also learned a great deal about hard work and empathy from his mother, who worked as a nurse at the Human Services Center in Yankton. In addition, he learned from his late father’s outgoing personality and his drive to succeed.
"It made me incredibly driven to show people that our family was just as good as anybody else," he said.
Huether wanted his book to be honest about his upbringing without hurting his family. At the same time, he held the contents so tightly that family members — including his wife, Cindy, and daughter, Kylie — hadn’t read the book before its release.
One of the first people to read the book was Huether’s mother, Diane Reese, who still resides in Yankton.
"I didn’t hear anything from her all (last) weekend, and so I was worried in a big way that I had done something to offend her or my family — that would have been the worst thing to me," he said.
"I called her (Tuesday) and said, ‘Mom, I’m coming down to Yankton for a book signing. What did you think of the book?’ She was so happy about it. She said, ‘Mike, I felt like we were re-living old times together. I really enjoy the book and can’t wait to read it again.’"
That was a big for Huether. "When you write a book like this, how much do you bare your soul, knowing that not everybody will appreciate what you have to say?" he asked.
In the book, Huether shared his father’s decision to buy the St. Charles Hotel and Café in Parkston along with a farm outside of the town, uprooting the family when Mike was in fifth grade.
"I talked about how everyone in the family except my dad knew the challenges that would lie ahead of us," Mike said.
Less than a year later, the Huether children were called to the principal’s office one day. They were met by their mother, who announced they were moving back to Yankton.
"We knew that Dad wasn’t going with us," Huether said, recalling the moment when he realized his parents were divorcing.
Despite the early challenges, Huether said he remains grateful to his Yankton family and friends who continue to support him, including his eight years as Sioux Falls mayor.
He admitted the young "Huey" came to the classroom or athletics with a huge chip on his shoulder. He told how winning a sixth grade speech contest — he still has the trophy, he said — provided him with a badly-needed shot of confidence at that point in his life.
"There are folks in Yankton who really stepped up and helped me and my family during those incredibly challenging times. I’m talking teachers, coaches and others," he said. "It’s moments like those where you learn who your friends are."
Huether said he confronted some cold doses of reality through the years. He was elected the South Dakota State University student association’s vice president — only to return to Yankton the following summer and find himself working at jobs such as flipping pancakes, washing dishes and working in the hot sun at landscaping jobs with Mexican immigrants.
Those lessons and work ethic served him well as he entered the financial field, he said. In the book, he shared many of the lessons from his career and his work at City Hall that he believes can lead to success for anybody.
Huether said he was "flabbergasted" that he was able to keep the book and its contents under wraps. Only nine people on his advisory team were allowed to read it ahead of time.
He said he worked with Thorn Publishing on the book and wrote it himself rather than use a ghost writer. The move was taken to capture the story in his voice and style, giving it greater authenticity.
As for the title, Huether started with more than 100 possible ideas before whittling it down to fewer than a dozen contenders. A friend said he needed to make a choice and move forward. Not everyone agreed with his final choice for the title, but he believed it fit his message.
Huether considered the book one of the most challenging projects he has undertaken. He started writing in July 2018, completing the first draft Jan. 2.
"From there, the real work began with the publisher," he said. "It took longer to go through the publishing process (than the actual writing)."
Huether was hit with a major turning point in his life at age 40, when his father died. Suddenly, he realized that he wasn’t truly in control of his own life. He embarked on a break-neck pace to accomplish the most he could from each day.
He embraced such challenges when he ran for Sioux Falls mayor in 2010 — in the midst of a great national recession that he said left many Sioux Falls businesses teetering on the brink.
"I was in a building in downtown Sioux Falls where I could have lived in those businesses and people wouldn’t have found me for a long time. These buildings were vacant and silent," he said.
Huether noted, at the end of his eight years in office, the city had revitalized in many sectors, and the downtown had received national recognition.
Huether also took on major projects, such as an events center, that had many skeptics. He received advice on the way to get things done, which he shared with Yankton audiences in what he called "tough love."
"I received advice that 50 percent plus one (vote) is a win, and 55 percent is a landslide. That’s huge, and the people of Yankton need to understand that," he said. "You can become so worried that you need to have these kumbaya moments where everybody is on board. But that’s not how you get anything done."
Another person offered advice to him that the best way to kill any action is to form committees and talk ideas to death, he said. "The more you do that, the less and less chance that change will happen. Ultimately, you need to have the guts and leadership to get it done," he said.
Huether offered another piece of advice to his Yankton hometown.
"I’ve encouraged them to tackle something tough in ways that include standing up to the naysayers and critics. Yankton has generated a big win with the (voter passage of a new aquatic center). That momentum can help them go forward and take advantage of things and not wait for the next big thing," he said. "There are a lot of things they want to tackle in the town so they go forward and grow, to attract workers to town, to bring younger residents to town who will want to become the leaders."
The Huethers showed their financial backing for Yankton by donating $1 million to the site now known as the Huether Family Aquatics Center.
"The city of Yankton really needed a win, and we justified that (donation) with our focus on families and quality of life and our facilities," he said. "Tackling (the old swimming pool) was long overdue, and it was a good investment in our hometown."
Huether continues working on a number of projects, including a monthly television show on KELO-TV which focuses on positive stories in small towns across the state.
In doing the show, he has discovered two things: the public craves positive stories, and small towns are extremely grateful for receiving attention for their accomplishments.
Will Huether make another run for political office? He noted the incredibly brutal toll that campaigns take on family, but he "never says never."
"I would love to serve again, but I’m doing things that I just thoroughly enjoy," he said. "I’m very blessed to have all these options and opportunities."
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