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Longtime South Dakota photographer dies at 97

“I’ve had a lifetime of turning negatives into positives.”
“I’ve had a lifetime of turning negatives into positives,” Grothe said.
“I’ve had a lifetime of turning negatives into positives,” Grothe said.(Bill Groethe)
Published: Dec. 23, 2020 at 2:54 PM MST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - He’s seen it all. The very beginning of the famous carving to the completion and the dedication of the Shrine of Democracy.

The renowned Black Hills photographer Bill Groethe, who recorded eight decades of of Mount Rushmore through the lens of his film cameras, has died Dec. 20. He was 97.

For months, he has been in poor health, his family said. He died Sunday, Dec. 20 at Monument Health Rapid City.

Grothe is best known for photographing the last survivors of the Battle of Little Bighorn and Nicholas Black Elk. Groethe photographed Black Elk many times. He says even in his 90s and blind, Black Elk drew respect.

“He was very quiet, very reserved and proud,” he told KOTA Territory News in 2016.

Groethe grew up in Rapid City during The Great Depression and bought his first camera at age 10, meaning he’s been taking pictures since the 1930s.

He was the owner of First Photo on Main Street, which closed earlier this year. Rapid City and the state of South Dakota designated Sept. 2, 2009, as William M. Groethe Day in honor of his work.

After capturing some of the most significant pictures in Great Plains history in film, Groethe’s photos will live on.

“I’ve had a lifetime of turning negatives into positives,” Groethe said.

His visitation will be 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020 at Behrens-Wilson Funeral Home. Due to COVID-19, masks are requested. Graveside services will follow at Mountain View Cemetery at 1 p.m. A celebration of Groethe’s life will be at a later date.

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