Memories of The King resonate 30 years after opening of civic center

By: Michelle Muellenberg
Source: Rapid City Journal
June 28, 2007

Many area people remember Elvis' performance at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City on June 21, 1977 - one of the last live performances Elvis gave before his death in August. However, Stan Zakinski has a unique recollection of the musical legend's brief visit to the Black Hills. The former Rapid City police chief provided the local security for Elvis, picking him up at the airport and driving him to the city's brand-new venue.

Elvis Presley, decked out in his signature white sequined jumpsuit, brought his rock 'n' roll and pelvic gyrations June 21, 1977, to a sold-out crowd at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City. That concert 30 years ago, which was the civic center's grand opening, was one of the last performances Elvis gave before he died that August. (Journal file)

RAPID CITY -- City officials 30 years ago wanted the grand opening of Rushmore Plaza Civic Center to be a majestic celebration, so they decided to bring in 'The King'.

On June 21, 1977, Elvis Presley, decked out in his signature white, sequined jumpsuit, brought his rock 'n' roll sound and pelvic gyrations to a sold-out crowd.

Many area people remember that night -- one of the last live performances Elvis gave before his death in August. However, Stan Zakinski has a unique recollection of the musical legend's brief visit to the Black Hills.

The former Rapid City police chief provided the local security for Elvis, picking him up at the airport and driving him to the city's brand-new venue.

'When I saw him come off the plane in his white jumpsuit, sequined trimmed and everything, ... it was exciting', Zakinski said during an interview at his Deadwood Avenue office. On the wall next to his desk hangs a black-and-white photo of Elvis with Zakinski standing to his left, Elvis' bodyguard on the right and the band's drummer in the background.

Jack Beckman, the civic center manager at the time, knew Zakinski had attended a deputy-protection seminar and asked him to speak with Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis' manager, about security.

The day before Elvis' arrival, Zakinski, who was then chief of detectives for the police department, received a detailed itinerary for Presley's visit.

'Everything was timed for the minute', he said.

When the Lisa Marie, Elvis' plane named after his daughter, arrived at the airport, Zakinski was there with a Cadillac limousine to take Elvis, his girlfriend, his father and a security person to the civic center. The rest of the crew followed close behind in another vehicle.

'I stayed right with him until I brought him back to the Lisa Marie', Zakinski said.

During the trip into town, Elvis commented about how beautiful the Black Hills are and questioned Zakinski about the size of Rapid City and its police department.

'He had a thing about police departments', Zakinski said. 'He had a (police) badge collection'.

It was dusk when they came in on S.D. Highway 44, and Zakinski remembers Elvis remarking on how bright the sun was shining. Zakinski handed Elvis his sunglasses.

'The estate still has them. I never got them back', he laughed.

After they arrived at the civic center, the security door opened, and Zakinski drove in.

'There was no stopping', he said.

Inside, Elvis met then-Mayor Art LaCroix as well as Sharon Brave and her 10-year-old daughter, Monique.

The brief encounter with 'The King' left a lasting impression on Sharon.

'I can still remember everything; we were in and out in a few minutes', the longtime Elvis fan said. 'We had the best seat in the house for a couple of minutes'.

Monique wore a full buckskin American Indian dress and presented Elvis with an eight-point beaded medallion. He gave her a scarf that she still has.

'He's part Native American. He looked at her and had the most peaceful look on his face. It was the most fabulous thing I've ever seen', Sharon said about their encounter with Elvis. 'He had a lot of charisma. He was just so real'.

The mother and daughter are also featured on the CBS live taping of the Rapid City concert.

After briefly speaking with the Braves and the mayor, Elvis slipped into his dressing room for a minute and came out ready to go, Zakinski said.

'You could smell the makeup', he remembered.

Elvis did a few squats, then said, 'Let's hit it', Zakinski said. The curtains opened to the theme song to '2001: A Space Odyssey', and The King came out.

'From there, he had the audience in the palm of his hand', Zakinski said. 'He got on stage, and he had control of the band, the audience and himself. He could move around the stage like a 19-year-old. It was fantastic'.

After the concert, Elvis walked off the stage and with a big smile on his face said, 'The King did it again',' Zakinski recalled.

Immediately after the performance, Elvis left for the airport. Zakinski dropped him off and gave him a badge from the Rapid City Police Department.

Zakinski said he was honored to have had the opportunity to provide security for one of the all-time great performers.

'He was a fantastic man to know, to see, to hear'.

For a peak at Elvis' arrival at the civic center 30 years ago, click here.

There's no doubt about it - Elvis is still 'king'
By Jeri Gulbransen
From the Rapid City Journal - Wednesday June 22, 1977

For the last 20 years he's been called the king of rock'n roll and there's no doubt he still wears that crown. Elvis Presley sang, swiveled his hips, played the guitar, threw scarves, cracked a few jokes and gave the capacity audience at the grand opening of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center their money's worth Tuesday night.

From 'Jailhouse Rock' and 'Are You Lonesome Tonight' to 'If you Love Me Let Me Know', Elvis gave old favorites and newer songs a real crooning treatment.

Although the gyrations that helped boost Elvis to popularity with teenage girls in the 50's are fewer and farther apart, the voice that continued to sell gold record after gold record sounded even better in person. Clad in a white suit decorated with gold, the king performed for the audience and CBS- TV cameras for almost an hour and a half. Footage from the Rapid City performance and an earlier one in Omaha will be used for a special television program this fall.

The well run show started almost exactly at the appointed hour, but that didn't mean the crowd didn't have to wait. Small groups trying to enter the arena were gathering around the civic center as early as 4 p.m., although the gate didn't open until 7 p.m.

The parking lots of the civic center were quickly filled and late comers parked as far away as St. Joseph Street, leaving a long walk to their seats.

The lights, sound system and instruments had all been carefully checked during the afternoon. The CBS crews took almost an hour of candid shots of the crowd assembling, cameras being checked and concessions being sold. Hawkers were selling souvenir programs, Elvis necklaces and giant posters.

Finally the lights dimmed --and in a rarity for concerts --the show started shortly after 8:30 p.m. The band played the opening number, then a male gospel group sang several numbers.

A comedian joked about Hermosa, Spring brook Acres and the reaction of women to Elvis. Three female singers with a decided Motown flavor really warmed up the crowd.


The crew wearing the red jackets with 'Elvis In Concert' started to change the arrangement on stage while many of the more than 10,000 crowd moved quickly to the concessions stand. While popcorn sold well, soft drinks were definitely the most popular item in the warm arena. Souvenir programs were used as fans in the balconies.

The stage was set. The band clad in white. The crowd started clapping and stamping for Elvis. Backstage Rapid City Mayor Art LaCroix presented Elvis a plaque with an engraving of Mount Rusmore and the inscription 'In appreciation to Mr. Elvis Presley for the grand opening concert' Presley was also given a hand-beaded medallion of life by young Monique Brave. Not included in the formal presentation, but also given to Elvis was a T-shirt promoting the Boy's Club Rent-A-Kid program.

Then the lights were dimmed, purple spotlights were focused on the band and the theme song for '2001 A Space Odessy' was played. As the purple lights got brighter and brighter, the audience was on the edge of their seats.

Then the king was on stage. And while he was there was no question that he was in command of the audience. The young, the middle-aged and the old all listened, all applauded, all watched a super performer in action.

While a few of the oldies were missing from the program, others like 'It's Now Or Never' and 'Don't Be Cruel' never sounded any better .

His detractors may call Elvis aging and fat, but his fans who pack into every show he does know better.

- Elvis Presley And The Events Of 1977

Beth wrote on Jun 23, 2007 7:09 AM:
'Wow...30 years already. We lived in Wall at the time, and my mom and I went to the concert. I was the biggest fan. We sat behind him and it was Awesome. He may have been overweight but he put on a very good and long concert. I too, don't remember him being late. For those who go to the Civic Center, please enjoy for me. Elvis still lives in my heart'.

BudW wrote on Jun 22, 2007 5:35 PM:
'I was there and thought he put on a great show, Elvis is a rock and roll Icon i am glad i went to the concert and seen him,I don't recall him being 1.45 minutes late either,anyone remember how low that barton singer got when he sang way down low?'

ms wrote on Jun 22, 2007 1:18 PM:
'I was one of those at the Elvis concert in 1977. I had not intended to go. But, a friend of mine who was and still is a huge Elvis fan, asked me to go with her. When his entrance music started, I kept waiting for him go come on stage. The gentleman sitting next to me pointed out to me that Elvis was already on the stage. I did enjoy his singing and was very glad I attended the concert. Contrary to what some others think - I enjoyed his movies - there was no swearing, killing, nudity, drugs, or any of the other things today's generation thinks is cool'.

Lois in Denver wrote on Jun 22, 2007 11:01 AM:
'I was also at the concert and was 17 years old. I sat behind the stage and was very close. I remember him really sweating hard and a man followed him around on stage with a big stack of small white towels that he would wipe his face with. He then threw it out to the screaming women who would then fight for possession. That in itself was great entertainment!!'

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