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DAKOTA IMAGE | Helen S. Duhamel

DAKOTA IMAGE | Helen S. Duhamel

Helen S. Duhamel began her career with the family saddle-making business and went on to launch broadcasting stations in western South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming, becoming a pioneer in cable television in the region. 

Helen Seidell was born on 26 November 1904 in Windsor, Missouri, to William F. and Mae Reilly Seidell. The family moved to a ranch on the White River north of Chadron, Nebraska, in 1907. Helen attended Catholic schools in Nebraska and in Sturgis, South Dakota, before graduating from Rapid City High School in 1922.

She married Francis A. (“Bud”) Duhamel in Rapid City in 1924, and the couple had two sons and two daughters. In 1933, Helen became bookkeeper for Duhamel Company, the decades-old family hardware business that had grown into a major manufacturer of saddles. She is credited with saving the business during the Great Depression by reorganizing, writing off customer credit, and renting out building space for extra income. In 1943, Duhamel bought an interest in the Black Hills Broadcasting Company, owner of KOBH radio, which had studios in the Hotel Alex Johnson near the Duhamel Trading Post in Rapid City. The station became KOTA radio in 1945, named for the last syllables of “Dakota.”

Duhamel bought the remaining company stock in 1954 and asked the Federal Communications Commission for rights to broadcast television—partly because she wanted to provide entertainment for farm and ranch families. KOTA became the second television station in South Dakota when it went on the air in 1955. Over the next twelve years, Duhamel Broadcasting Enterprises expanded “KOTA Territory” through an extensive system of microwave transmitters, adding television stations in western Nebraska, Lead-Deadwood in the Black Hills, and Sheridan, Wyoming.  In 1966, Duhamel became a partner in South Dakota Cable TV, Inc.

Under her leadership, Duhamel stations earned national awards, including the Golden Mike Award from McCall’s magazine and the Alfred P. Sloan Radio-Television Award for Distinguished Public Service. When elected to head the South Dakota Broadcasters Association in 1961, Duhamel became the first woman in the nation to hold such a post. She was inducted into the South Dakota Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1976 and the Nebraska Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1991. Helen Duhamel died on 8 November 1991 at the age of eighty-six.