SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota's largest city is welcoming political figures, family and friends in town to mark the life and career of former Democratic U.S. senator and three-time presidential candidate George McGovern, a legend in state's political history who died Sunday at age 90.
Hundreds of people are expected to gather Thursday for a public viewing and prayer service at First United Methodist Church. Among the confirmed guests is Vice President Joe Biden, who served alongside McGovern in the Senate in the 1970s and early '80s.
"I was honored to serve with him, to know him and to call him a friend. ... Above all, George McGovern was a generous, kind, honorable man," Biden said Sunday in an emailed statement after McGovern's death.
The two days of remembrance for the staunch liberal will include some of South Dakota's highest ranking officials from both sides of the political spectrum. Sen. John Thune, Rep. Kristi Noem and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, all Republicans, have confirmed they plan to attend. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., is scheduled to speak at the 6:30 p.m. Thursday prayer service.
It isn't yet clear who will speak Friday at the funeral inside the Mary Sommervold Hall, which seats 1,800 people. McGovern family spokesman Steve Hildebrand said the family will not announce who is attending.
It's possible that former President Bill Clinton and former Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole could attend. Clinton and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, met McGovern while campaigning for him in 1972 and remained friends. Bill Clinton later appointed McGovern as ambassador to the United Nations' food and agriculture agency and awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor.
McGovern later was appointed to be the first UN Global Ambassador on World Hunger. Dole and McGovern co-founded the Food for Education program for children in poverty-stricken countries.
McGovern, who railed against the Vietnam War as a senator and later lost his 1972 presidential bid to Republican Richard M. Nixon in a historic landslide, is to be buried at a later date at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Sioux Falls business managers are preparing for an influx of customers, though they don't know just how many.
Tiffany Semmler, a manager at Minervas Restaurant, a few blocks from the site of the funeral, is bracing for a busy Friday.
"You never know if people are coming from out of town and going directly to the funeral, we might not get an excessively busy lunch. If they decide to go directly home after the funeral, we won't get a big push after the funeral," she said, noting that the restaurant is planning to schedule an additional server and cook.
"If everyone stays in town and isn't going back to work on Friday, we could get hit really hard," she said.
At least one hotel is offering a discount for those attending the funeral of McGovern, who was born in Avon and grew up in Mitchell.
The executive director of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport bets most out-of-towners will be driving. Pheasant hunting season opened last weekend, said Dan Letellier, and the airport's 23 daily flights Thursday and Friday are already booked.
"Any national figure or business leaders from other parts of the country may very well end up chartering flights or corporate jets," he said.
Follow Kristi Eaton on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kristieaton .
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