Friends of the W. H. Over Museum

A nonprofit organization

100% complete

$3,000 Goal



Dr. W. H. Over


In 1883 the University Museum of the University of Dakota was founded ( now the University of South Dakota (USD)). The name of the museum was changed in honor of Dr. William Henry Over who was assistant director and then director of the museum for 35 years. Dr. Over, a born teacher, was interested in acquiring natural and cultural history objects from South Dakota and the Northern Plains and sharing that knowledge to people of all ages and backgrounds. Subsequent directors continued his traditions. The museum now contains over 80,000 objects in its collection. 

As a means of supporting the museum, the Friends of the W. H. Over Museum was founded in 1967. The organization raised funds, supported museum activities, and ran a gift shop. In 1973 the  management of the museum passed from USD to the South Dakota Cultural Preservation Department. Following the imminent loss of State funding in 1996, the Friends of the W. H. Over Museum incorporated to run the museum with the help of few paid staff and dedicated volunteers.  Most items in the museum are donated from community members and organizations. For example, "Old Betsy", the first motorized pumper fire truck in Vermillion purchased in 1923 was given to the museum from the Vermillion Fire Department.

Old Betsy in the lobby of the W. H. Over Museum


The Museum’s Mission is: To collect, preserve, document, exhibit, research, study and interpret objects relating to natural and cultural history, primarily of South Dakota and surrounding areas. 

 To further the Museum’s mission it develops interpretive exhibitions, educational programs, maintains files and inventory of holdings, works with researchers, contributes to publications, and conducts tours of the museum.  

Importantly, over the years several USD students have worked on specific collections, helped catalogue items, and contributed to the development of new exhibits. Dr. Williams, an associate professor in the USD School of Education,  made the museum a focal point for her  elementary school teachers students' training to use exhibits in the museum as a basis of t lesson plans.  In addition, K-12 students from many backgrounds in the region benefit from tours of the museum, special programs, and specific projects. Their involvement is a hands-on learning experience beyond what they could experience in the classroom.

For this project (the W. H. Over Museum Prairie Kids' Club) children aged 8 and older helpers will meet once a month to explore a theme enhanced by items and exhibits in the Museum’s collection. The presenter will be a specialist in an area, such as an archeologist who has experience teaching a variety of students. We are fortunate to have a wide scope of specialists associated with the University of South Dakota and the community who are interested in participating.  

The second part of the day’s activity will consist of hands-on activity to supplement discussed topic. In the case of archaeology, it may consist of learning to dig for an object in a buried trench on Museum grounds. Additional topics to be explored include the importance of patterns and colors Native Americans in the area use to bead belts, moccasins, and clothing, Native American and pioneers’ use of farm implements, the one room schoolhouse, boarding schools, and use of bison for co food, clothing, and containers to move dried foods. Moreover, an exhibit “Crossing the River” will contrast two types of watercrafts used by Native Americans and explorers Lewis and Clark, the bull boat (a bison covered half sphere framed over wood) and the dug-out canoe. 

The idea of having children of various ages involved uses the concept of a one room schoolhouse where children of all ages helped each other learn. Lesson plans developed from these activities will be placed on our website to shared with schools in this region and nationally.

Fargo Barn exhibit demonstrating timbers from the 1878 barn and farming equipment



An exquisite deer skin vest designed with porcupine quills and small seed beads    


Organization Data


Organization name

Friends of the W. H. Over Museum

Tax id (EIN)



Arts & Culture Education Community