Grandson of the Good Samaritan Society’s founder August “Dad” Hoeger, Mark Jerstad grew up with the Society’s mission of serving others in his heart. Earning his dream job as the organization’s president and CEO in 1989, Mark cherished the role to the day he died from colon cancer in 1997 at the age of 54.
“As soon as we became good friends, he told me about his life. A big part of it was Good Samaritan,” Sandy Jerstad, Mark’s wife, says.
The couple started dating when they were students at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. While Mark would eventually serve as the campus pastor at Augustana University (1977-1985) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, he always had the Society on his mind.
“When he was 17, he hitchhiked to Colorado to work as a nurse’s aide in one of the homes out there and just loved it,” Sandy says.
Like his grandpa, Sandy says Mark had a sense of humor and a drive to make a difference.
“In the morning, very basic and simple, (Dad Hoeger’s) prayer was always, ‘Lord what would you have me do today?’ I think I saw my husband the same way,” Sandy says.
“Mark also loved older people and people who were in need. There’s that same heartfelt desire to be of help to those people who really needed help.”
'He spent time with everybody'
Shepherding one of the largest nonprofit providers for senior care and services into the computer age, reforming an employee investment program and encouraging administrators to pursue master’s degrees are a few big accomplishments during his tenure.
A pastor by background, Mark was a great listener who was also generous with his time, Sandy says.
“His presence was exciting, enjoyable and comforting to the administrators and he just went (all over). He spent time with everybody,” Sandy says.
Often showing up with a big smile, a firm handshake and, Sandy jokes, sometimes driving his beloved DeLorean.
Bringing everybody together is another one of Mark’s gifts.
When a bank was looking to sell an office building in Sioux Falls near 57th Street and Interstate 29, Mark jumped into action.
“He got there in time to make a deal. Somebody else was a half hour behind him. Not only for the building but also for the 40 acres of land to the east which is, wow, look at it today what it is,” Sandy says.
That site would later become the Society’s National Campus along with Good Samaritan Society – Prairie Creek.
“He was president and CEO and got this place all planned out and not built yet, but planned out,” Sandy says.
Mark died before he could see the space come to fruition. Today, the campus is still full of Society employees carrying out the mission alongside co-workers from Sanford Health.
'I have felt your prayers'
Pushing ever forward like those before him, Mark didn’t let his cancer diagnosis in November of 1996 slow him down.
“He didn’t sit around and mope about it. What happened to him was, I think God just picked him up and twirled him around his finger and said, ‘You’re going to be fine, and you’ve got a mission now while you’re still here,’” Sandy says.
During the few months between diagnosis and the end of his life, Mark continued to make an impact.
“Tons of people would come to see him to hold him and comfort him. He just turned right around and comforted everybody that came to see him,” Sandy says.
The support from the Society during that time is something Sandy won’t ever forget.
Mark himself mentioned being lifted up in prayer in one of his last employee communications 25 years ago on March 12, 1997.
“During these challenging weeks of my illness, God’s calming presence has been a source of both comfort and strength for me. I have felt your prayers, and they have been, literally, the wind that has filled my sails. I am deeply grateful to be part of a Christian community that so faithfully upholds its members in prayer,” Mark says.
Sandy remembers, “the closeness of the Society and how people loved each other and loved getting together and how they helped each other, phone calls here and there. It was a very wonderful, happy, positive company.”
'Necessity to have good care'
As the organization gets ready to celebrate 100 years of service in September, Sandy can’t help but be amazed by its story.
“Here you’ve got this guy who was a farmer. Thought he should maybe serve God in North Dakota and lived in this little town of Arthur,” Sandy says. “Somehow, he saw people there who didn’t really have anyone taking care of them.
“He just had faith and he believed in what he was doing and here it is 100 years later. 100. That’s quite a long period of time and the Society is still doing well. Still going strong.” Now part of an integrated health system with Sanford Health, the Society is in 22 states operating 200 locations.
“I hope it keeps on growing and keeps going strong and I think with Sanford coming alongside and all the help that they’ve given, I see a wonderful future. We’re always going to have to have care for people, especially elderly people,” Sandy says.
“It’s just such a necessity to have good care and people who work here who love the residents.”
Cracking a smile and thinking of her husband’s part of this history, Sandy adds, “A lot of people don’t ever get their dream job, but he did. And he dreamed big. It was always a fun adventure to go along with him anywhere.”
Sandy herself had quite the career spending 27 years at Augustana, teaching and coaching. She’s in the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame and led the Augie softball team to a national title in 1991.
Mark was proud of her team’s accomplishments.
“He used to say, ‘I’m just the coach’s husband,’” Sandy says.