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Debbie Moses Ketel, a former Decatur resident, helped develop an award-winning audio tour about Mount Rushmore and also wrote a book for toddlers featuring one of the primary residents of Mount Rushmore: “One Baby Mountain Goat.”
Courtesy photos by Jim Montgomery
Debbie Moses Ketel, a former Decatur resident, helped develop an award-winning audio tour about Mount Rushmore and also wrote a book for toddlers featuring one of the primary residents of Mount Rushmore: “One Baby Mountain Goat.”

FROM DECATUR TO MOUNT RUSHMORE
Monumental work
Decatur High grad helps develop audio tour, books for national park

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

A former Decatur resident now works under four U.S. presidents.

The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt look down on her as she develops items about them and their sculptor to be sold in bookstores at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, S.D.

Under their watchful eyes, Debbie Moses Ketel helped develop an award-winning audio tour about Mount Rushmore and worked to publish a coffee-table book and three children’s books about the monument.

She also wrote a board book for toddlers featuring one of the primary residents of Mount Rushmore: “One Baby Mountain Goat.”

The 1987 Decatur High School graduate does all this and more through her part-time job as publications manager for the Mount Rushmore History Association, which supports the National Park Service with educational, historical and interpretive activities at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

“I first got interested in national parks while working a summer job at Grand Canyon National Park between college and graduate school,” Ketel said during a telephone interview.

She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications from Baylor University in 1991 and 1992 and then headed West, instead of back to Decatur. Her first jobs were in printing and marketing, and then four years ago, she “jumped on it” when she heard this position was being created

“Over the last 10 years, we have given over $1 million back to Mount Rushmore,” Ketel said, about the association.

“The majority of my job is sitting down with my board and National Park Service people and brainstorming to see what we’re missing in our book stores and what niches we need to fill,” she said.

“When I started here, they didn’t have any books, and I had to find authors and illustrators. I take documents back and forth to the Park Service, which has to sign off on everything we sell in our stores.”

She also obtains approval for the words and photos for interpretive exhibits, promotional materials for the park and publications for tourists.

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum began Mount Rushmore at 60 after working on the carving at Stone Mountain near Atlanta. The son of Danish immigrants, he died in his 70s in 1941, leaving his son Lincoln and others to complete his work at Rushmore.

‘Living Memorial’

A mountain goat, which is featured in Debbie Ketel’s baby book, at the front of the Mount Rushmore park entrance. Buffalo, antelope, prairie dogs, bears and wolves are also common in the area.
A mountain goat, which is featured in Debbie Ketel’s baby book, at the front of the Mount Rushmore park entrance. Buffalo, antelope, prairie dogs, bears and wolves are also common in the area.
While Borglum and the monumental task he took on are featured in some park publications, there had never been an audio tour for visitors to listen to while walking the suggested route.

“We thought an audio tour would be a neat educational tool to have” to describe the monumental task Borglum took on, Ketel said. She started searching for an American Indian who spoke the language of the Lakota tribe for the audio.

Ketel said the Mount Rushmore park superintendent, Jerard Baker, is an American Indian from the Mandan-Hidatsa group in North Dakota.

“It’s a real goal of his to teach the American Indian culture to those who come to Mount Rushmore, and this audio is another tool to do that, because people can pick up the wand and hear what the language would sound like.”

As the project manager, she guided the audio presentation, overseeing the brainstorming, script writing, editing, recording of the Lakota language, signage and marketing.

“I just had to crack the whip and guide the project to where everyone was satisfied,” she said.

The “Mount Rushmore Audio Tour: Living Memorial” also includes historic recordings of the Borglums and workers on the project. It can be rented for $5 and has been translated into Spanish, German and Lakota, with more languages to be added.

Ketel attended a March meeting in Sacramento, Calif., where she was surprised when the audio won the 2007 audio/visual division award of the Association of Partners for Public Lands.

On the Net

You can see some of the items Debbie Ketel helped put together, such as “Who Carved the Mountain?” and “Rhyming on Rushmore,” on the Web site www.mtrushmorebookstore.com. Her “One Baby Mountain Goat” board book is available there and through www.amazon.com.

South vs. North

Debbie Ketel’s South Dakota projects — and her family — have kept her so busy that she hasn’t made it home to Decatur in 10 years, but she is looking forward to coming in September for her Decatur High School 20-year reunion.

“I really like it in Keystone, because the hills give you the feeling you’re in the mountains, but it’s so far away, and I miss the South and the people I grew up with,” Ketel said.

“At Baylor, I met a handful of people from Rapid City, S.D., and one of them turned into my husband, so we settled there after Baylor,” Ketel said. “I didn’t know we would be here forever.”

Her husband, Jay Ketel, works for Black Hills Corp., a utility company. They have three children: Justin, 9, Jason, 6, and Jessica, 2. Their basset hound is named Dixie “as a reminder of where I came from,” Ketel said.

Her parents moved from Decatur to South Dakota in 2000 to be near their daughter and family. Janice Moses taught nursing at Calhoun Community College and then worked as a home health nurse here, and Tom Moses, who died last year, was an accountant.

Janice Moses and Decatur resident Ellen Montgomery were friends from their teaching days at Calhoun, so Ellen and Jim Montgomery visited with the family on a recent trip to Mount Rushmore and sights around Rapid City.

“Until this visit, I was not fully aware of all the things Debbie had been doing,” she said, “although I had seen an item in a Baylor alumni magazine about her cute baby mountain goat book and ordered a copy for our grandchildren.”

Patrice Stewart

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