Even at 99 years young, Pearl was the best source of information on the Rally. Because she was there from the beginning, and because this event was her passion, her gift of recall and her ability to share oral history was constantly in demand, and she reveled in each opportunity.
South Dakota is rich in history and has many stories to tell. We would be remiss if the legend of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was not included and if Pearl Hoel was not honored as one of it’s most important and recognized guardians.
We lost Pearl on February 27th. No longer will we see her face smiling warmly, nor will we hear her retell a story, but she will live on in our hearts and in the history of Sturgis. She was a true friend to the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum. Much of our success is owed to this gentle woman who was generous enough to grace our facility and share her life with us and with the thousands of visitors we see each year. We will miss her, but we know she isn’t far away. These are her Hills, and this is her Rally. Her role has simply changed from hostess and historian, to guardian. Of this you can be certain, she is off some where reunited with Pappy, riding around on an old Indian, watching over her town and her two wheeled friends.
Born in 1905, Pearls journey to the Black Hills of South Dakota and fame must have seemed a long way away. Although she moved to Rapid City at the young age of five, her meeting with Pappy Hoel, the man credited with beginning the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, didn’t happen until the 20’s, by chance on a blind date at a community dance. Prior to becoming Mrs. Hoel, Pearl spent her time teaching children in rural schools. It was said that not only did she teach, she also was responsible for all the custodial duties at her small school and to earn extra money she cut and styled the local women and children’s hair.
Shortly after her marriage to Pappy in 1929, Pearl worked as an investigator for the WPA, helping needy rural families during the Great Depression. Later she went on to become Meade County’s Clerk of Courts, was elected as Register of Deeds and eventually elected County Auditor. All the while Pearl lent her time, energy and moral support to Pappy in his motorcycle dealership, the formation of the Jackpine Gypsies, the motorcycle races and his participation in the Rally. Pearl shared with me once that due to her position in the county and her involvement with the Rally that at one time she knew everyone in town by name. “Now I don’t remember names all the time, but I still remember the faces,” she sighed. She’s a little hard on herself. At 97 Pearl is sharp as a tack and knows more about this town and the Rally than most of us could ever hope to remember.
While Pappy is credited with being founder of the Rally, Pearl is widely praised for its success and continuity. She was the woman behind the man, always gracious, always generous. The Hoel’s played host and hostess to attendees for many years, setting up a large tent in their yard for campers. Pearl had coffee and donuts available, prepared meals and hauled them out to the racers and to riders participating in the tours. She still hosts a coffee party at her home each year during the Rally and welcomes back old friends.
The consummate hostess, Pearl was the woman in the background, preferring to let Pappy shine while she took care of details and made folks welcome. To this day it’s common for Pearl to invite a guest or reporter into her home and share some of her well preserved memories.
In August 1983 Pearl proudly took Pappy’s side as he was presented with a proclamation by the Governor honoring him with J.C. “Pappy” Hoel Day, and later as the AMA presented him with their most prestigious Dud Perkins Award for “outstanding contribution to the sport of motorcycling”. She has received few awards but the recognition and respect this gentle woman receives from Rally attendees and the community of Sturgis speaks volumes of her place in our hearts and minds. Pearl Hoel is our most precious treasure, the best of us and the true spirit of the Rally. She is and always will be our First Lady.