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Mini Bios of People of Scots Descent
W. M. Mair Biography

This file contains the biography of W. M. Mair from "Who's Who in South Dakota" by O. W. Coursey (1913) 


Through his lectures before graduating classes and other popular audiences, his wide range of sermons, and his activity in the educational world is teacher and superintendent, the Reverend W. M. Mair - that little, sawed-off Scotch-American preacher, at present pastor of the congregational church in the city of Mitchell -has brought himself into prominence, and it is beginning to make his name a household word in South Dakota.

Mair is a persuasive fellow. Born in Peterhead, Scotland, in 1870, 'tis said, as the story goes, that at the infant age of four years, he had already familiarized himself with so much history and had become so innoculated with the spirit of liberty, that he persuaded his parents to take him and move to America where he might rise to greatness and pave the way for his fellow Scotchman, Andrew Carnegie, to make a fortune. The parents yielded and Mair has already achieved both objects. Carnegie's name will remain chiseled in stone over the doors of public libraries long after Mair is dead
and forgotten, but the moral stimulus being given by Mair to those about him will widen in the wake of its influence, like the tail of a comet, and continue to inspire men to higher ideals, long after the stone structures containing Carnegie's engraved name have crumbled to dust.

Strange! Isn't it!? How one man seeks fortune and builds for today, while another seeks righteousness and builds for tomorrow. Wealth is doing all it can to perpetuate its own appetite. Philanthropy is today being conducted in too many cases under a mask of hypocritical self-aggrandizement. The name of the richest man on earth, 1912 years ago last Christmas morning, is not known and cannot be found among the sacred pages of contracting history, while the name of a little Child who entered life in the manger of a grotto in old Bethlehem, on that day, now lives everywhere. The name of the richest man in America on that eventful day when the Emancipation Proclamation was promulgated to the nation, is either unknown or forgotten, while the name of that impoverished country lawyer who penned it, today stirs the patriotic instinct of every American at its very utterance. Wealth is today struggling as never before to buy a place of prominence to perpetuate itself in the history of the race.  Dedications here! Dedications there! Narnes chiseled on prominent stones in massive structures, of those whose gifts erected them (for the ultimate sake of self)! -the palsied struggle of wealth for self perpetuation. Yet these give way in the human heart to the towering shafts of granite, built by the tiny gifts of the poor, that point their illumined spires, heavenward at Springfield, Illinois, at Canton, Ohio, at Gettysburg, in the city of Washington, and amid the pines of Boston. Mair is building well.

The Mair family first settled at Toronto, Canada. From here they soon removed to Tennessee. Here W. M. attended the public schools, and later graduated from Pleasant Hill Normal Institute. Dissatisfied with his preparation for life, he persuaded his father to send him to Oberlin, where through self-support, selfexertion and honest application, he fitted himself for a minister of the Gospel, and graduated with distinction.


Filled with unquenchable enthusiasm. the young pastor did not go back to the old family haunts of Tennessee, but rather he struck westward and accepted the pastorate of a church at Henry, South Dakota, where he preached 1897-99 inclusive. Accepting a call to Garretson, S. D., he occupied the pulpit at that place for several years, and then resigned to accept the principalship of the Garretson schools.

In 1903 he took a trip back to his native land, looked over the "Mosses (on the) Old Manse," filled himself full of European ozone, and then returned to his adopted land to work out his destiny. This trip opened a new field of endeavor to him. His observations had given birth to a stirring lecture on the Old
World. Requests for its repetition came from all over the state. Mair's gifted tongue was rapidly, earning back for him the money he spent abroad.

Always possessed of an inherent longing for school work, and realizing how closely connected are the lives of the teacher and the preacher, Mair returned to the school room at Garretson--using this as a stepping stone to the superintendency of Minnehaha county, 1907-10. In this position he made an enviable record. He superintended, taught, lectured, preached, wrote, conducted corn-growing contests, and gave a general impetus to the school work and, as well, to the sociability of the entire county.

A. Craig Bowdish, pastor of the Congregational church in the city of Mitchell, resigned his pastorate in 1910, to re-enter school. The membership of the church, who had been reading the Sioux Falls papers, and consequently were somewhat familiar with the aggressive methods of our preacher-teacher, sent for Mair. He took a "try out;" preached them a few eloquent sermons; received a unanimous call; left Sioux Falls a few weeks before the expiration of his second term in the county superintendent's office and removed to Mitchell, where today he is one of the "live wires" among the preachers of that city. His congregation has built an elegant modern parsonage for him and his family-a little Scotch lassie of his own size and ambition for a wife, plus two lovely daughters.


For several years Mair has edited a department, once a week in the Argus-Leader, entitled "The Observer," which bristles with live facts, tastily written. He has a literary style of his own. It is admirably set forth in the following extract from his speech delivered before the students of the Aberdeen Normal, September 11, 1912:

"I once dined in the home of a southern friend in the far south. The dinner was prepared and served by a negro servant, old and gray, who had been a slave in the home before the Civil War. She was an expert in the mysteries of culinary proficiency. Yes, she was more-she was in artist. The snowy white linen, the polished silver and china, the creamy hot biscuit, the delicious fried chicken, the golden butter, the digestible cake, and the amber-colored, coffee, -a nectar fit for the gods, will remain a sweet and grateful memory with me for another decade, and will atone in large measure for the interruptions and disappointments of life I have sometimes experienced. Was that aged negress educated because she could create and serve so royal a feast? She could neither read nor write her own name. She was educated in only a faculty or two, and yet I can not speak too highly in passing of the necessity of the kind of education she possessed. We can hardly conceive an educated woman not knowing how to do the very things this negress could do, but we cannot conceive an educated woman knowing only what she knew and doing what she could do. But education is something more than the doing of things with trained hands. Education awakens the whole man. It gives wings to the imagination, refines the tastes, purifies the sensibilities, enlarges the vision, intensifies the powers of speech, quickens every power and trains every faculty, and fills the soul with ambitions requiring the most heroic effort to attain. What though a woman can cook to please the fastidious taste of the epicurean if her soul is forever dead to the charm of music, the nobility of literature, the beauty of art? What though a man can shoe a horse, drive an engine, or build a house, if the only pleasures and progress he can appreciate are the rasping voice of the cheap phonograph, the ribald song of the painted actress, the insipid intellectuality of the modern novel, the voices of the masters in literature, science and government unheard and unknown? What is the outlook of the soul whose world is measured only by the boundary of the tiny world in which his hands toil for daily bread! Is this the educated mana hewer of wood and a carrier of water? The educated man receives tribute from the past and the present, in every department of learning, for his pleasure and progress, and his outlook is as infinite as the field of knowledge."

Strangely enough, Reverend Mair is also a money maker-not a money chaser. Like Lowell, he says:
"I only ask that heaven send A little more than I shall spend."

This "little more" has been carefully guarded until today it has accumulated into one of the nicest farms in Minnehaha county, and into two beautiful lots in the city of Sioux Falls, on which he expects to build a manse, in which he and Mrs. Mair may spend their declining years, after he shall have become too old to work. Thoughtful man!



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