Chamberlain’s Bunker Wins State Tourism Honor for Work at Aktá Lakota Museum – Mitchell Republic

CHAMBERLAIN, SD — Wanda Bunker loves talking to people.

As coordinator of the historic center and receptionist for the

Akta Lakota Museum

at Chamberlain, it is his job to welcome visitors and introduce them to the facilities, offer tours, and share general information about the purpose and mission of the museum. She must have good human qualities.

And it does, at least as far as the

South Dakota Department of Tourism

is concerned. The government department expressed this recently when Bunker received the Ruth Ziolkowski Award for Outstanding Hospitality and Customer Service. The award is one of ours given annually statewide.

“I was blown away,” Bunker told the Mitchell Republic.

She wasn’t even aware she was in the running for the award until the presentation ceremony. She found out about it on January 20 while attending the Governor’s Tourism Conference in Pierre. Knowing that there were four of the awards presented in regions of the state, Bunker was curious to know who would be nominated in her particular region of the state.

As they began to announce the recipients, the announcer mentioned that one of them was a coordinator and receptionist from the historic center. Bunker said it was then that she was struck by the fact that she had been named the recipient of the award.

“They couldn’t even say Aktá Lakota and I was already crying,” Bunker said. “I was so excited.”

The Ruth Ziolkowski Award for Outstanding Hospitality and Customer Service recognizes members of the tourism industry who have demonstrated outstanding service to every visitor they meet and whose work demonstrates a spirit exceptional hospitality, warmth and genuine kindness. Ziolkowski was an American executive and CEO of the Crazy Horse Memorial, a monument dedicated to Crazy Horse that was designed by her late husband, Korczak Ziolkowski.

Hospitality and customer service are important aspects of any job that deals with the public, but it can be particularly important when your job involves welcoming and guiding visitors through a museum and historic center. This is how Bunker, a longtime employee with

St. Joseph’s Indian School

, with which the museum is associated, spends his days at work.

“I’m the historic center coordinator and the museum receptionist, so when you come to visit, I’m the person who greets you and shows you how to get around our building,” Bunker said. “I also do tours of our campus in St. Joseph’s. I know a lot about the ins and outs of the place.

It’s been a tough few years for someone who likes talking to people. The Akta Lakota Museum traditionally welcomes around 20,000 to 30,000 visitors from around the world a year, she said, but the arrival of COVID-19 has forced a temporary closure of the museum. People also traveled less at the start of the pandemic, which reduced the number of visitors.

For someone who likes to share the vision and history of the museum and the school, having fewer people around was disappointing, she said. Fortunately, the drop in the number of infections allowed the museum to reopen to the public with the implementation of social distancing measures.

This allowed visitors, such as school excursion groups, to visit the museum’s collection again.

“Last summer it was amazing how many people we had. We had an amazing summer,” Bunker said. “(But due to COVID-19) we don’t have many visitors from the around the world as we are used to. It’s a COVID-19 thing. But we have more school groups coming to visit now, so that’s pretty good too.

Bunker, 59, who has been a longtime house parent and has worked with the school to some degree since she was around 15, does exactly what someone who is the public face of the museum should do: make you feel comfortable and welcome.

“Everyone who walks through the front door feels like the center of attention,” Dixie Thompson, director of the Akta Lakota Museum, said in a statement.

Tourism is South Dakota’s second-largest industry behind agriculture, and Jim Hagen, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism, said it’s people with an attitude like Bunker’s that give South Dakota the reputation as a warm, friendly and welcoming place to visit. .

“In every region of South Dakota, it’s people like them who drive the tourism industry. Every day they show up. They put their hearts into their careers and embody the hospitality that South Dakota is known for,” Hagen said.

The award should go well with her South Dakota Great Face awards, of which she has been named a recipient three years in a row. And it has no intention of slowing down, content to continue to welcome the curious on its campus.

“I was telling friends this week that I think this job was done just for me. I like talking to people who want to know what we are doing. It’s not even work. I love coming to work, honestly, and it sounds ridiculous, but I hate when I have to miss it,” Bunker said.

Museum visit times are available on

its website.

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