Elmer “Buzz” Whitepipe: Career Inspired Award of Excellence

The story of SDHDA would not be complete without Elmer "Buzz" Whitepipe. In 1973 Governor Richard Kneip appointed him to the Board of Commissioners. Whitepipe joined the staff in 1976, where he worked until his passing in 2006.

Whitepipe was born in Okreek on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. His Lakota name was Cetan Wakan, or "Holy Hawk." He attended school in Gregory and graduated in 1966 from The Taft School, a Connecticut preparatory school.

He worked for the Community Action Program in Lake Andes, the United Sioux Tribes and the Rosebud Housing Authority prior to joining the SDHDA staff. For the next 29 years, he served in a variety of capacities at SDHDA.

Whitepipe and Terry Berendes started SDHDA's rental management program. "At one point, each of us had 70 housing developments that we were assigned to," recalled Berendes, now retired. "We were busy beyond belief. We were the point of contact for any and all things, tenants, developers, HUD, local people, budgets, audits."

Whitepipe and his wife, Judith, raised five children and two grandchildren in their Gregory County home. Whitepipe lived with his family in Dallas during his career. Each week he made the 200-mile round trip to Pierre, where he kept a second home. "He drove that every week and he didn't miss a beat, even with all that ice and snow and deer over the years," Berendes recalled.

In 2012, SDHDA honored its longtime staffer and former board member by creating the annual Elmer Whitepipe Award of Excellence. This award recognizes individuals or companies instrumental in providing affordable rental housing in the asset management or compliance industry in South Dakota.

"He was a good friend of mine. He was a true contemporary. Through your life you only have a handful of people you can say that about, and he was one of them," reflected Berendes.