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Reliance Rancher Receives National Award

By Lura Roti for South Dakota Farmers Union

Many years ago, a Priest shared words of wisdom with David Reis that the Reliance rancher never forgot.

“He told me, ‘if you don’t hear babies crying in the pews, you just as well lock the doors because your church is dying.’”

A third-generation Lyman County cattle producer, Reis applies this wisdom to the agriculture and community organizations he is actively involved in and works to invite younger members to join.

“What has worked in the past does not always work today. What works today won’t necessarily work in the future,” Reis said. “To be ready for the future, we need to bring in new members, be open to change and be ready to learn and grow.”

Reis was recognized for his leadership and efforts to increase membership with the Bruce Miller Membership Award during the 2024 National Farmers Union Convention held March 10-12 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“David is someone who leads by example and works to welcome the next generation of family farmers and ranchers to Farmers Union,” said Karla Hofhenke, Executive Director of South Dakota Farmers Union. “Through his efforts, many young ranch families have joined. We are grateful for his efforts because new members bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to our organization.”

David Reis has served on the state Board of Directors for South Dakota Farmers Union since 2018. He said investing time and energy in Farmers Union and other organizations is how he gives back.

“If you have been blessed in your life, like I feel we have been. You should take the time to give back,” Reis said.

Opportunity to work with family is priceless

David Reis grew up on his family’s Reliance ranch. He said he always knew his life’s work would be ranching. And he considers himself fortunate to continue the legacy of his dad, Gordon “Bus,” and mom, Peggy. The family runs a commercial cow/calf herd and works to manage their grasslands to meet their herd’s forage needs.

Since 1975, Reis has gotten to do the work he loves with the woman he loves. He and his wife, Brenda, have worked side-by-side for nearly 50 years.

“I have been able to live out here on the ranch and raise up four kids with my wife working right here with me,” Reis said. “We maybe did not have all the money we could have had if we’d had town jobs, but we had all the time we ever wanted to spend with each other. It has been priceless to spend time with each other, our kids and now our grandkids.”

Reis Ranch is located on rangelands that make up the rolling hills of the Missouri and White River valleys in central South Dakota. The landscape makes working from horseback a necessity.

“The country is rough enough that it is hard to do the work that needs to be done with anything other than a horse. And I have always thought working with a horse is more enjoyable,” Reis said. “Things move at a slower pace, and you get to observe your cattle and the grassland more closely.”

Because of their connection to ranch work and horses, over the years the Reis family has been actively involved in rodeo. Brenda and David are members of the local Horseman’s Club and for decades the couple helped host local 4-H and High School Rodeos. David has served on the local school board, township board, advisory board of St. Mary’s Church and volunteer fire department.

He is also a member of the Reliance Area Community Development Group. This group puts on an annual dinner theater for the community. Known for his ability to provide comic relief, Reis has had at least one acting role in every play. The event funds college scholarships for area youth.

“Most of what I do, for Farmers Union or my community or other agriculture organizations is for the next generation. I’m always working to make things better for our children and grandchildren,” Reis said.

On their own ranch, David and Brenda also help their 12 grandkids save for college. “When the grandkids turn 5, Brenda lets them pick out a heifer calf. They raise it and they get the money from the steer calves it has and they are able to build up their own cow herd.”

In addition to Farmers Union, Reis is also a member of South Dakota Stockgrowers, R-CALF, serves on the board of directors for the South Dakota Beef Industry Council and represents South Dakota on the National U.S. Meat Export Federation board of directors. To learn more about the Reis family ranch, read a 2015 article by visiting and click on the South Dakota Farm & Ranch Family link under the About Us Tab.

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