Three Hot Springs natives setting a fine example for this year’s area high school grads
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – Over the next couple of weeks, a total of 73 Fall River County high school seniors – 54 from Hot Springs, 11 from Oelrichs and eight from Edgemont – will walk across the stage to accept their diplomas and officially set sail on their life’s next adventure.
For three recent Hot Springs High School graduates, their ships after high school did not take them too far from home as of yet. But the knowledge and experience they have gained over the past three or four years is certainly setting themselves up for very big things to come.
Gina Elmore, Jacob Oberpriller and Grant Russell could be known as Hot Springs’ own “Tremendous Tech Trio,” based on all of their accomplishment thus far as students at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SDSM&T) in Rapid City.
Elmore and Oberpriller are both 2014 graduates of Hot Springs High, with Russell following in their footsteps a year later, graduating in 2015. All three are engineering majors at South Dakota Tech, but each with different planned dates of graduation.
The first to earn her diploma from one of the nation’s leading engineering institutions is Elmore, who not only graduated this past weekend with joint degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering, but she also served as her Class of 2018’s commencement speaker.
Following graduation, Elmore will be going to Peru for four weeks to live in the rainforest and do conservation work. When she gets back, she will then start her full-time job as an environmental engineer for Nucor Steel in Norfolk, Neb., which is a steel and steel products company. She will be working at one of their bar mills, she said.
During her four years at Tech, Elmore, who is the daughter of Marty and the late Rose Elmore, was a long-standing member of the Student Association Senate, serving four years as a senator, two years as the governmental relations chairperson, and one year as Student Association President (2016-2017),
She said her proudest achievements while in college were having “three awesome internships” with American Engineering Testing in Rapid City, Barrick Gold in Winnemucca, Nev., and Nucor Steel in Norfolk, Neb., not to mention also being crowned Homecoming Queen this past fall and being chosen as student commencement speaker for graduation.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to speak for my graduating class tomorrow,” she said last Friday, May 4, just a day prior to graduation day for her and her classmates. “I hope that my speech will be able to represent them all and the journey they have had here at Mines.
“We have all had different journeys to get here, to graduation, and I think it’s great that we were all able to experience those journeys together. I also think that engineering and technical sciences are great professions that work hard to protect and serve society, and I think a lot of us really appreciate that as engineers entering the field.”
Oberpriller, a fellow future engineer and HSHS Class of 2014 classmate to Elmore, said he is expecting to earn his college diploma a year from now, in May 2019. The son of Paul and Kim Oberpriller of Hot Springs, Jacob is majoring in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management. His summer plans this year include an internship with Michelin North America in Greenville, S.C.
And like Elmore, Oberpriller is also involved in the Student Association Senate and was recently elected as the Student Association President for the 2018-19 school year. And who do you suppose is Oberpriller’s Vice President? Well, none other than fellow Hot Springs Bison Grant Russell – of course!
In fact, Oberpriller said their “trio” have many long-standing commonalities relating to student government and other similar interests.
“Gina and I were Co-Presidents for student council in high school and both served on the Senate in college together for a few years,” Oberpriller said. “Grant and I both played football together in high school, are in the same fraternity in college and now are serving together on Senate this year.”
“Grant and I were elected in March of this spring,” he added. “My main goal for this next year is to enhance the interaction with S.D. Mines and the Rapid City community by putting on more events that involve both. One of those is a concert that we are planning at the Civic Center in the fall. One of the things that I feel I’ve gained from being on Senate in the past and what I think I’ll learn from this experience is how to be an interface between the students and the faculty.”
Oberpriller said some of his proudest achievements thus far in college include earning second place in the ASCE Regional Conference Non-Technical paper competition, induction into Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors society and being the Gustafson Leadership Award recipient.
Russell meanwhile, who is a Mechanical Engineering student, said he plans to graduate in 2020. This coming summer, he will be interning with LafargeHolcim, a worldwide producer of cement, in Holly Hill, S.C., as a Maintenance Engineer.
The oldest of four children of Lance and Starla Russell of Hot Springs, Grant has also been a part of the SDSM&T Hardrocker football team since 2015 as a placekicker and now punter. He currently serves as the Chairman of the SDSMT College Republicans (since 2016) and is a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity (since 2018), in addition to the incoming Student Association Vice President.
He said he is most proud of the trust and confidence that others have instilled in him throughout his college years thus far, by helping him develop valuable skills and education to seek service and leadership opportunities.
“The relationships I have made with my fellow students, community and elected leaders, and university staff has been such a rewarding and fulfilling growth experience for me. I really do feel very fortunate that folks have stood by me and helped me realize great potential, both in and outside the classroom,” he said.
“I am also proud to serve in my father’s footsteps by attending the Fund for American Studies Program last Summer and interning in Washington, DC, which he did as well, 27 years ago in 1990.”
All three of the former Hot Springs High School graduates attribute much of their drive and success to growing up in the small, close-knit community of Hot Springs.
“I think that going from a small high school to a small college allowed me to realize the potential for making a difference, or at least trying,” said Oberpriller.
Elmore meanwhile said, “The community support from Hot Springs really showed me how a community should be and what the good qualities of it can be, and I think that helped me, not only in looking for somewhere that I fit like S.D. Mines, but also in seeing how everyone can work as a team, be supportive and friendly, and achieve the desired outcome.”
Russell also saw great benefit by being raised in a small town.
“Growing up in my hometown of Hot Springs was extremely beneficial for me because not only did my family help shape who I am, but my community, teachers and friends also played a significant part,” he said.
“Both my parents grew up in Edgemont, and wanted the same small-town environment to raise their kids. I’m sure glad they did. I was able to walk to school, ride my bike around town, and learn to drive on our back county roads without the concerns that other kids often experience in larger communities,” Russell added.
In addition to sharing a fondness for their hometowns, another commonality the three of them share is a fondness for one another.
Elmore said what she admires about Oberpriller is how he is always willing to try something new.
“He went to Guatemala, basically on a whim, one summer and told me all the stories about it, convincing me to do my Peru trip this summer,” she said. “He is such a hard worker and he never allows himself to have excuses as to why something doesn’t get done … He isn’t afraid to start something big and he is always enthusiastic about a challenge.”
Elmore said she admire’s Russell’s persistence.
“He had a rough start at Mines, with getting sick and not being able to play football like he planned,” she said. “But, he is still here, and making the best of it! He is always willing to think out of the box and doesn’t follow the mainstream way to get something done. He is very confident and knows that he can accomplish something, so he goes after it.”
Oberpriller said of his friend Elmore, “When you think about someone that works as hard as they can on whatever they do and are as caring as possible, it’s hard not to think about Gina. If we had more people like Gina in this world I think that our problems would be minimal.”
“For Grant, I admire how well he already jumped into this position,” Oberpriler said. “He’s brought in a lot of new ideas and always takes the time to do any task that he is doing the right way. Many students try to get work outside of classes done as fast as possible and the quality suffers, but not Grant.”
Russell meanwhile likened his relationship to both Elmore and Oberpriller as his “surrogate older siblings.”
“I believe the oldest sibling in a family has the responsibility of paving the way for their younger ones and serving as someone to look up to,” Russell said. “The special relationships I have with both Jake and Gina, who graduated from high school a year earlier than me, go beyond friendship because I feel they served as surrogate older siblings to me. I have always looked up to them and admired their academic and personal drive and their exceptional ability to relate to people. They are two of the most genuine and selfless people I am grateful to know. I am eager to learn what is in store for their futures beyond college.”