The WEB Water scholarship was established in honer and recognition of past leaders – Sieh, Westby, Zemlicka, Montgomery and Hohn.
Retired Groton farmer and businessman, John Sieh, served as Chairman of the Oahe Subdistrict Board from 1977 to 1982. He led efforts to raise $3.3 million in local tax refunds to match $3.4 million in hookup fees collected from farmers and rural residents. These combined funds were used to help secure federal authorization of the WEB Water Project and to leverage $94 million in federal grants and $22 million in federal loans to build WEB Water. In addition to his support for the WEB Water Project, Sieh was a strong supporter of rural water development all over South Dakota. Under Sieh’s leadership, the Oahe Subdistrict provided funding to the BDM (Brown-Day-Marshall), Mina Lake, and Clark Rural Water Projects. He supported funding for river side irrigation along the Missouri River, watershed development, flood control, and projects to enhance and improve the James River. Sieh farmed in Brown County for more than 30 years and was active in the South Dakota Egg Growers Association. After retiring from farming, he established the John Sieh Insurance Agency.
A retired state employee, Alton Westby, served as an Aberdeen City Commissioner from 1973 to 1978. As Aberdeen’s representation on the 4th Planning District Board, Westby was instrumental in organizing the first WEB Water meeting that was held on December 12, 1974 in the basement of the Brown County Courthouse in Aberdeen. Farmers and representatives of towns located in Walworth, Edmunds, and Brown Counties attended the meeting. The WEB Water Project got its name from the first initial of the three counties. As interest in the project grew, farmers and towns from more and more counties contacted the group and were added. Westby served on the first WEB Board of Directors and helped organize the first signup meeting and informational meetings. A quiet and modest man, Westby worked well with representatives from small towns and rural areas. He understood the importance of having good working relationships with towns and counties in the Aberdeen area. As Water Commissioner for the City of Aberdeen, Westby envisioned a pipeline from the Missouri River east along Highway 12 as an answer to Aberdeen’s future water needs. In WEB Water, Westby saw a regional water project that would not only help meet Aberdeen’s growing water needs, but provide the city and much of Aberdeen’s trade area with a greatly improved water supply. Towns like Redfield, Webster, Ipswich, Groton, Faulkton, and Selby were struggling with water high in salt and total solids, none of which would comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Westby operated truck weight scales for the SD Department of Commerce. He was well connected with the working class residents of Aberdeen, but some business and community leaders differed with him and his ideas about a pipeline. The railroad had proposed a pipeline along their right of way from Mobridge to Aberdeen years ago and Aberdeen turned down the offer years earlier. After years of work, WEB Water secured the authorization needed to proceed with the project.
No one did more to advance the cause of WEB Water than former Aberdeen City Commissioner and resident Mae Zemlicka. Mae grew up on a farm in Hand County where water was limited and in poor quality. She was a champion for improving water quality. Zemlicka understood the economic importance of good water brought to a farm, town or community. She served on the first WEB Board and played a key role in the early feasibility studies, secured funding, and was an early organizer of the project. Zemlicka traveled to Washington, DC and met with agency officials and congressional representatives. Zemlicka saw WEB Water reach Brown County in 1987.
There is probably no non-member who has done more to advance the cause of WEB Water than this lady. Though small in stature, Montgomery accomplished more in retirement than many people do throughout their active lives. As a leader of the League of Women Voters, she researched water resource issues and championed clean water for towns and farms. As a member of the SD Humanities, Montgomery found funding for research of public issues. An archive of water information at Northern State University in her name is a valuable resource used by students and the public. A book by Aberdeen Author Pete Carrels entitled “Up-Hill Against Water” was based in-part on the extensive library and files donated to NSU by Montgomery. She gave her time and energy to develop the WEB Water Project.
Curtis M. Hohn worked with the founders of WEB Water and the original construction of the project. He served as manager over nineteen years. Hohn was a champion of many issues in South Dakota especially as a leader in state and federal water policy. If you talked to Hohn, it soon became obvious that his true passions from a young age were South Dakota’s rural people and their need for good drinking water. He spent a lifetime working with local, state, and federal interest in water development in South Dakota. Hohn had a leading role in the trade of the Oahe Irrigation Project for the WEB Pipeline Project. Rural water became a priority in South Dakota and within a short time following the trade; federal and state resources were directed to projects across the state. It would be hard to imagine this major change without Hohn’s extraordinary ability and persistent efforts. As General Manager of WEB Water, Hohn staunchly pursued the highest level of service to the customers and a quality product; top notch maintenance and operation of the system, and builder of a valued team of employees.