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Stanley Crooks

Jenn Ackerman, The New York Times

Stanley Crooks married soon after his return from service in the Navy in 1962.

Gehrz, Jim, Photo courtesy Crooks family

Stanley R. Crooks: Lifting a people

  • December 29, 2012 - 10:46 PM

In 20 years as tribal chairman, Stanley R. Crooks, 70, became perhaps the most powerful and philanthropic force in Indian Country, transforming the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux into one of the nation's wealthiest bands.

The navy blue Lincoln Navigator climbed up the bluff and down the steep bank on the south side of the Minnesota River near Granite Falls.

It was Sunday morning, Aug. 5, and Stanley Crooks was back home where he grew up -- attending the annual Upper Sioux powwow. Cheryl, his wife of 48 years, was at his side as she had been since they were 7-year-old schoolmates.

They married in 1962, when he returned from the Navy. For 20 years, he worked as a draftsman at the now- defunct Whirlpool factory on St. Paul's East Side, commuting from Shakopee in a beat-up green car with cardboard covering holes in the floorboards.

"He'd have to dust his clothes off when he got to work," Cheryl recalled.

That was long before he parlayed tribal politics and gaming into personal wealth. In the 1960s, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Community had one well, no running water and gravel roads.

Under Crooks' leadership and the growth of the swank Mystic Lake Casino, annual payments climbed to $1 million for each of the band's 420 members. The band contributed more than $28 million a year to tribes from Montana to Wisconsin, financing community centers, clinics and casinos.

On that warm August morning, Cheryl worried when her husband said he was going out for a while. His health was failing. But he cajoled his cousin's son, Dylan Goetsch, to drive around the back roads for three hours. "He started telling story after story and reminiscing," said Dylan, 26.

Down by the river, Crooks nodded to the cottonwood trees where he swung on ropes and splashed into the water as a boy.

He showed Dylan where he walked to school.

They stopped at the sandbar where Crooks had fished and saw two guys in their 20s -- one white and one Dakota. From the front seat, Crooks asked if they were catching anything. Not much luck, they shrugged.

"They had no clue who he was," Dylan said. "He was such a humble guy, he never drew attention to himself."

CURT BROWN

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