The South Dakota Chapter of VOSH International started as an offshoot of a Minnesota VOSH project. Dr. Dorland, an optometrist from Mankato, MN, went on a VOSH trip to an unknown location. Upon returning, he shared the story of his trip with his daughter and her friend. The friend, Veronica, was an exchange student from Gomez Palacio, Mexico, whose father was president of the Gomez Palacio Lions Club. She asked, “Why can’t we do this in my town?”
In the fall of 1976, a group of about 5 organized by Minnesota VOSH, went to Gomez Palacio for the first time. Dr. Douglas Torbert from Gettysburg, SD, was a member of that team. In the spring of 1978, a second mission returned with many of the same people plus Dr. Dick Isaak of Eureka, SD. At that time, Minnesota encouraged Doug and Dick to form their own chapter in South Dakota. Soon after, SD VOSH was created and the newly formed group would inherit the annual mission trip to Gomez Palacio. The mission to Gomez Palacio has continued every spring since 1978, except in 2011, when the mission was cancelled due to the threat of violence.
Throughout the years there have been various-sized groups that have travelled to Gomez Palacio, with one of the largest groups in 1986 and one of the smallest groups in 1987. In the early 1980s, we had help from the Illinois College of Optometry, but after 1986 it was decided that the size of the group was too large. Thus, the arrangement between SD VOSH and ICO was discontinued, and ICO established other VOSH affiliations. In 1988, due to the reduced number of attendees the previous year, a new alliance was sought with SUNY College of Optometry. This pack lasted into the 2000s, when they decided February was a bad time of year to go because of board tests, so they found other missions in which to participate.
While the trip to Gomez Palacio may have been the first trip established by SD VOSH, it is not the only one. In 1984, after going on four trips to Gomez Palacio, Dr. Phil Freitag decided to organize a new trip to Port Antonio, Jamaica. No one seems to know how Port Antonio was selected, but Dr. Freitag along with the Jamaica America Medical Assistance Committee (JAMAC), got the trip started and it has been a huge success. Dr. Freitag led several missions to Port Antonio before starting a new mission trip in Nicaragua. It was on the 1992 trip to Nicaragua that Dr. Freitag told Dr. Larry Morrison of the Detroit Lakes, MN area about the wonderful amenities of the Port Antonio mission trip. In 1995, Dr. Morrison and his wife joined the Jamaican trip and they became regulars. After Dr. Frietag became sick and passed away, Dr. Morrison, along with Dr. Brad Meier of Watertown, SD (who had been a part of the Port Antonio mission since it began in 1984) decided to take over the mission. Because they both worked full time they decided to run the mission on a biannual basis which started in 1999.
Due to the joint leadership of Dr. Morrison (MN) and Dr. Meier (SD), the Jamaica trip has really become a split venture led by both South Dakota VOSH and Minnesota VOSH. This teamwork has led to many successful missions. We thank both VOSH International and Minnesota VOSH for their help establishing both of our mission trips. As South Dakota VOSH, we look forward to continuing our missions into the future for as long as we can, and hopefully with more involvement we can add other trips to future dockets. If you have any suggestions or ideas on possible trips, please let us know.