It was an unwritten rule in the Rapid City Journal newsroom that when you stopped at Wall – or just passed – during your mission, you were obligated to bring back donuts.
Drug donuts wall. For editorial pleasure.
“Didn’t you bring donuts?” Ron Bender asked me once when I walked into the newsroom after covering a story in Wall. “Hey everyone, Woster was at Wall and didn’t bring donuts.”
If I remember correctly, there were a series of boos and a few hisses from other reporters, editors and copy desk staff.
Bender was one of the Journal’s editors and the main enforcer of the Wall Drug donut rule. In this case, he determined that I could be forgiven for showing up without the widely advertised treats since I was a new paper writer in 2002.
Well, kind of again. I had written freelance articles for the newspaper when I lived in Pierre in 1979 or 1980. Then, after working for the Argus Leader in Pierre and Sioux Falls for a few years, I was hired as a part-time chef full of the Journal. report to Pierre in 1988.
I moved to Sioux Falls to return to the Argus in 1992, but then moved to Rapid City to work for the Journal again in 2002, this time out of the home office. I stayed there until 2013 when I quit and went to work for Keloland News as a reporter and television station cameraman in western South Dakota.
That’s when I proved that TV news doesn’t have to be another pretty face.
After KELO, I retired for three months, got bored of hunting and fishing, and accepted an offer from Larry Rohrer that I couldn’t refuse – blogging and radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting .
But I digress, which is a Woster family propensity for storytelling. It’s in the genes.
Back to Wall Drug, the Rapid City Journal newsroom and donuts.
I like Wall Drug donuts – maple topped first and foremost – better than any other. I’m a donut-cake man. My mother made excellent homemade donuts on the farm. And, oh my, were they exceptional when they were still warm and crispy and sprinkled with sugar.
It kind of turned me into a cake-doughnut guy for life.
Donut sales exceed one million a year
My wife, Mary, who also worked as a reporter for the Rapid City Journal, specialized for many years in an interesting combination of food and religion coverage. She would tell you that people generally prefer cake donuts or raised donuts. I prefer cake. Krispy Kremes and their ilk are fine. These are just not Wall Drug cake donuts.
I’m not the only one with a strong fondness for donuts either. Wall Drug has been selling hundreds of thousands of donuts a year for years. And in 2021, the operation surpassed one million donuts for the first time, said Sarah Hustead, vice president of Wall Drug.
“We were getting closer, but we weren’t quite successful,” she says. “Last year we passed one million. And I think we’re on track to sell one million this year.
I intend to help, one donut at a time.
However, the favorite Wall Drug donut of store visitors is not the maple top. It’s the chocolate top. But anecdotally, based on feedback and testimonials from people like me, Hustead concluded that people in South Dakota would choose maple as their #1 donut.
“I think it’s by far the favorite among South Dakotans,” she says. “But chocolate wins every year overall.”
Hustead thinks it’s because visitors from other states who haven’t tried the maple donut prefer to go with something they know and trust: chocolate.
“They don’t know if they would like maple, but they know they like chocolate,” she says. “And kids love chocolate.”
The flavor rankings among Wall Drug customers overall are Chocolate, Maple, Plain, and Vanilla.
“But there’s really no wrong choice,” she says.
Define “from time to time” for the consumption of donuts
That’s how I’ve felt about Wall Drug donuts since I was a kid and we’ve made our must-do Wall Drug stops on our trips from our Lyman County farm to the Black Hills.
Which is not to say that I’m suggesting that Wall Drug donuts are some form of health food. My wife, Mary, knows this better than I, because she saw them being made many years ago for an article in the Rapid City Journal.
So Mary knows what’s in it, ingredients I don’t want to dwell on. But whatever they are, the combination creates a treat that surely tastes like it’s good for you. And maybe it is, in some ways.
My neighbor, Margaret Watson, a retired Episcopal priest, put it this way on Facebook recently when I posted a photo Mary took of me enjoying a donut at Wall Drug: “Doughnuts are not – may not be good for the body, but they sure are good for the soul – sometimes!
Two things about that: with “sometimes”, Margaret advises moderation, which is good advice. And I wouldn’t want to start every day with a maple donut from Wall Drug, although if I lived in Wall I’d have to resist the urge.
But “sometimes” they are an absolute delight (After maple-tops, I like Wall Drug plain donuts better then chocolate. Vanilla-tops don’t move me, though I’m sure they have their fans).
A doctor friend of mine who advocates healthy eating and regular exercise (what doctor wouldn’t?) gave me the green light to eat a Wall Drug donut “every once in a while”.
When I asked him what “from time to time” meant, he said “about once a year”.
For me, this stretches “from time to time” to an unnecessarily austere degree. Other than that doctor’s advice, I’m confident you can have more than one a year. I do it. I have. I’m going.
Over the years I’ve lived in Rapid City, I guess I average about one Wall Drug donut a month, which tends to end up a stop at the iconic drugstore for me and doesn’t seem out of place. for my physical well-being.
“Donut” lives on after the copy desk disappears
Top it all off with a 5-cent coffee – yes, that’s still a nickel – and spend some time admiring the impressive western art exhibit and you’ve got the full Wall Drug donut experience.
But let’s go back to the second part of our neighbor Margaret’s Facebook comment: “doughnuts”.
I think that’s the official spelling of Wall Drug donuts. And I must admit that I prefer this spelling. But it was so consistently rejected by the Journal’s editorial board that I stopped using it for most references, even casual Facebook conversations.
Those folks at the copy desk can put you in your head, after all, which is part of their job – to get you thinking about words, language, style, grammar, and proper usage.
And the spelling.
I have to say that was part of their job. There is no longer a copy office at the Rapid City Journal. Not like we knew it, with half a dozen or more people reviewing stories, writing titles, laying out pages.
The staff in the copy department were eliminated a few years ago, along with other positions in the press room. Now, a single copy editor reads the stories before they are sent electronically to a design center in another state.
It didn’t just happen at the Journal. It’s happened across the world of newspapers, sadly enough.
Newspaper copy bureaus were essential institutions that now exist mostly in memory, which is sad for readers and journalists. Especially journalists.
Other than a nose for the news, an appreciation for the written word, and some storytelling skills, there’s nothing a reporter needs more than a good copy desk. As my friend and former Journal newsroom colleague Bill Harlan used to say, writing without a good copy desk is like being a tightrope walker or acrobat operating without a net.
Sometimes back then this net would catch things like “donuts”, change them to “donuts” and advise the reporter to use the common spelling.
I don’t have to worry about it anymore. But I still use “donuts” most of the time. It was partly out of fear that Phyllis Person, a longtime executive of the Journal’s copy office, found me and corrected me, perhaps harshly.
I no longer have a copy office to unearth my brain cramps. But I still have a friend named Steve Miller, a retired Rapid City Journal news professional who seeks me out in his spare time. Steve has held many jobs at the Journal, including journalist, agricultural writer, West River editor and managing editor.
Steve was good at what he did, loved his job, and earned the respect of readers, news sources, and reporters like me. When he offered to edit my SDPB blogs and everything I wrote for free, I couldn’t have been happier if he had given me a box of Wall Drug donuts.
Well, maybe a little happier, but only until the donuts are gone.
I like that Steve reviews my documents before sending them to SDPB, where they are reviewed before being published. But more than that, I like the feeling that I’m still working with Steve. The good understanding that we had at the Journal continues beyond its walls.
And speaking of those walls, what’s happening inside the walls of the Journal these days is a much reduced version of the old days. A very small staff strives to deliver professionally produced local news to readers who still need and need it.
I admire this effort and support it. And, in fact, it occurred to me, while enjoying a maple table at Wall Drug with Mary, the last time we stopped, that I should pick up a dozen donuts and drop them off at the newsroom, for the good old days.
But then it also occurred to me that there was no longer anyone working in the newsroom who would understand and appreciate the traditional value of delivery.
I talked to Mary about it and she was like, “Okay, but they might still like donuts.
Indeed, they could. Historical perspective or not, it’s hard not to love a Wall Drug donut.
Sorry about that, Phyllis, I couldn’t help it.