Gene Lebrun was born in Langdon, North Dakota on July 4th,1939 to Jules and Marie Lebrun. He grew up working on his father’s farm, along with two brothers and four sisters. He spent many hours driving farm vehicles and never lost his love of driving.
First grade was in a one-room country school. In Gene’s second grade, the Lebrun children transferred to St. Alphonsus School in Langdon, where Gene graduated from high school in 1957. In high school he was active in the Student Council (President), the school yearbook (co-editor) Future Farmers of America (Reporter), varsity basketball, and other activities.
Gene attended St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, graduating with a BA degree in political science and a minor in history in 1961. While at St. John’s he joined the Young Democrats becoming President during the 1960 -1961 school year.
After graduating from St. John’s in 1961 Gene went to work for the Social Security Administration in Sioux City, Iowa. He returned to North Dakota to assist in the fall harvest before beginning law school at the University of North Dakota.
Gene graduated with a J.D. degree from the UND School of Law in 1964. While in law school Gene wrote for the Law Review and represented UND in the First Appellate Moot Court Competition and the National Law Students Annual Meeting in San Francisco.
Gene and Pat Olson were married in 1963 in Langdon, North Dakota, and moved to Rapid City, South Dakota in 1964, where their two sons Mike (in 1967) and Ken (in 1969) were born.
Gene joined the law firm of Whiting, Lynn, Jackson & Shultz, now Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, P.C., where he practiced law until his retirement.
Gene spent his forty-eight years in the general practice of law primarily engaged in representing business clients and advising on intellectual property matters, educational law, and utility law. He was a member of the American Bar Association, the American Board of Trial Advocates, the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation, the American Law Institute, and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. Gene was the 2004 recipient of the prestigious McKusick award which is given by the USD Law Student Association to a member of the South Dakota Bar for their contributions to the legal profession.
Gene was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives in the fall of 1970. After being re-elected in 1972, he was elected Speaker of the House, one of the youngest Speakers in the country. The 1973-1974 Sessions had an equal number of Democrats and Republicans in the State House with Representative (now Judge) Larry Piersol as the Democratic Leader and Representative Joe Barnett as the Republican Leader. Cooperation, coordination, and negotiated compromises were the order of the day.
Major legislation passed when Gene was Speaker included the creation of the South Dakota Investment Council, the South Dakota Environmental Protection Act, and the Unified Judicial System. The legislature also passed the Equal Rights Amendment which was rescinded in 1979. Transparency reforms that are still celebrated today were also enacted during Gene’s tenure.
In 1976 Governor Richard Kneip appointed Gene to the Uniform Laws Commission (ULC), a renowned national organization dedicated to promoting uniformity among state laws. He remained a South Dakota Commissioner until his death. He was passionately involved in the ULC, serving as Chair of the Executive Committee (1995–1997) and President (1997-1999).
Senator Tom Daschle, Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, appointed Gene to the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce as part of the Internet Tax Freedom Act in 1998. He also was a member of the South Dakota Streamlined Sales Tax Task Force and spoke around the country and internationally about internet transaction taxation.
Gene was a member of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Foundation since 1971 and Chairman of the Board of Directors from 1985 to 1989. He served on the Mount Rushmore Society Board of Directors from 2006 to 2019 and as President from 2009 to 2011. He was on the Westhills Village Retirement Community Board of Directors from 1979 to 2014 and chairman of the Board from 1993 to 1994. He was a member and president of the Westhills Village Foundation board. He was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2012.
A consistent theme in Gene’s life was his commitment to honorable and ethical public service and his determination to be an engaged and active citizen at the local, state, and national levels. He was a great role model to his sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren, and we are all better for what he accomplished and the example he set.
Gene had a lifelong love of learning and was a voracious reader. Given his interest in leadership and government and politics, he enjoyed political biographies. He set out to read at least one biography of each U.S. president, amassing an impressive library along the way and sharing his insights with family and friends. He followed the news and current events avidly. Gene had strong opinions but was always interested in hearing what others had to say. His persuasive skills were impressive, but he never went into a discussion with a closed mind.
In the course of his work and public service endeavors, Gene traveled extensively around South Dakota and the United States. He was a million-mile flyer on United but really loved a long drive in a good car. He and Pat also enjoyed the opportunity to travel extensively in Asia, North Africa, and Europe.
Gene will be remembered fondly by his wife of 60 years Pat, his sons: Mike, wife Beth, and their adult children, Kate, Nick, and Anna; and Ken, his wife Laurie, and their adult children, Sylvan and Max; siblings Dr. Richard Lebrun; Jan Kaylor; Carol (Jerry) Casey; Yvette (Dave) Krech; and Yvonne (Jerry) Lorenz.
Gene was preceded in death by his parents Jules and Marie Lebrun and brother Robert Lebrun.