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Christopher Vondracek

South Dakota Correspondent

A native of Wells and Kiester, Minn., Vondracek went west for college in 2003, attending the University of South Dakota on a scholarship named for Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today. After picking up a B.A. in Journalism in Vermillion and writing for the student newspaper, The Volante, Vondracek stayed for his M.A. in English literature. He taught college English in Rochester and Winona, Minn., between 2009 and 2015, and eventually received his MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Hamline University in St. Paul. Since 2017, he has covered legal affairs, education, religion, and politics with various publications from South Dakota to Washington D.C. and back. In 2020, his poetry book — Rattlesnake Summer, a collection of 66 poems for 66 South Dakota counties — was published by Ipso Gallery and Badger Clark Publishingin Sioux Falls. Vondracek moonlights on piano for his Twin Cities-based band, The Golden Bubbles, as well as a traveling radio show in South Dakota, the Rock Garden Tour. He once played The Corn Palace in Mitchell.

The Ritz Ballroom sat two miles south of Beresford, South Dakota, drawing performers such as Lawrence Welk and other popular, regional acts, until it mysteriously went up in smoke on a cold winter's night.
On an August night in 2007, two 19-year-olds, including his own son, killed 47-year-old Brian Brody Sr. in his trailer. Brody had a history of abuse toward his family, but his death roiled the South Dakota college town -- the first homicide in over a decade.