Champions of Community: The Behl Family’s Enduring Legacy in Scotland, SD

Behl Family
The Behl Family

Nestled 28 miles northwest of Yankton, South Dakota, lies the close-knit town of Scotland, a community with an impressive track record. With a population of around 900, Scotland boasts a thriving K-12 school, meticulously maintained parks and recreational spaces, a bustling Main Street teeming with local businesses, a local hospital, and the distinction of being home to South Dakota’s inaugural ethanol plant. Behind this flourishing town stands the Behl family—Dick and Peg, and their son Michael and his wife Ashley. Together, they are the driving force ensuring that Scotland remains a vibrant, safe, and forward-looking community.


The history of Scotland and the Behl family are intertwined, with the Behls quietly yet significantly shaping the town’s trajectory over the years. It all began with George D. Behl, Dick’s grandfather. George was an enterprising soul in Scotland, working as a blacksmith, metalworker, and boiler system installer. He even held several patents, the most notable being for the eve trough system. Although a career in banking wasn’t initially on his radar, everything changed in 1938 when he became a director on the board of Farmers and Merchants State Bank. Over time, George accepted a fulltime position in the bank where he acquired stock until he assumed full ownership. George served in the bank until his passing in 1969.


The Behl family is now in its fourth generation of community banking. George’s son, Darwin, joined the bank in 1941 after serving in the armed forces. Darwin continued his service in the bank until his passing in 2015. His wife, Marilyn, also played an active role in the bank as head of operations and public relations until her passing in 2012.


While Dick grew up in the bank, he officially joined in 1977 and later took over as the bank’s president in 1982, following in his father’s footsteps. Like his father, Michael also grew up in and around the bank.


“As we raised him, we tried to encourage him to make his own decision. Mike has always been an entrepreneur and we’ve always supported him. We’re friends and partners in life, it’s what we do,” explained Dick.


“I was an entrepreneurial kid. I was always finding ways to make money, from mowing lawns to working on local farms. I knew from a young age that I wanted to work in business and with people,” said Michael, who began working in the bank at age 14 and eventually took on the responsibility of managing all IT needs. After completing his college education, Michael worked for another independent community bank before returning to Scotland, where he now oversees Compliance and IT.


Dick and Michael Behl

While the bank is undoubtedly a core tradition in the Behl family, their true legacy lies within the community of Scotland. The Behl family has multi-generational ties to the town, with many family members having laid the foundation for its present prosperity. Notably, George Behl played a vital role in planning and constructing the Landmann-Jungman Memorial Hospital. When George passed, Darwin continued on the tradition of service as a member of the board of directors.


“He fought tirelessly to bring a hospital to our community!” said Dick, underscoring the family’s dedication to enhancing healthcare access in Scotland. 


Peg served as the director of nursing at the same hospital before her retirement in 2021, a tradition that has been passed down through the family, including Dick and Peg’s two daughters, Michelle and Jennifer, and daughter-in-law, Ashley.


“Taking care of community members in the same hospital our previous generations helped build is truly special. As a nurse, our duty is to care for our patients. But this connection heightens our responsibility. We’re not just taking care of patients; we’re preserving the hospital to continue serving,” Peg emphasized.


Ashley, a registered nurse, understands the critical importance of accessible healthcare in a rural community, having grown up in a town where the closest hospital was over 30 miles away.


“Being able to support our community through quality, accessible healthcare is so rewarding. Everyone here has welcomed me, treating me like they’ve known me for my whole life. It’s a special connection, and I’m proud to support the community that has supported me,” Ashley added.


Today, the Behl family is preserving and carrying on the tradition as community champions through many other contributions. Dick and Mike serve as volunteer EMTs and firefighters, covering a wide radius around Scotland, with Mike also holding the position of assistant chief in the Scotland Fire Department.


“There were times when Dick was the only EMT on duty, and we didn’t always have others to help, so I would ride along to assist with patient care. We left our family to take care of other families. That’s what you do in a small community. You help, ” Peg recalled highlighting the family’s dedication to their neighbors’ well-being.


Sustaining the prosperity of a rural community is no easy task, but the Behl family has wholeheartedly embraced the challenge.


“As I grow older, I reflect on the risks my dad and grandfather took. My grandfather fought tenaciously for the hospital because he knew it would help the town prosper. Witnessing their hard work and risks paying off, benefiting the community, is what inspires me,” said Dick, who shares his family’s appetite for taking risks. Scotland is home to South Dakota’s first-ever ethanol plant, which came to fruition with the support and financial backing of Farmers & Merchants State Bank.


“We saw the opportunity to create jobs and bolster our local economy. Supporting this endeavor helped us turn the tide and attract more people to our community,” Dick explained.


Looking to the future, the Behls remain committed to finding ways to support their community, particularly by providing opportunities for the numerous young children within it.


“We have many young families with children in our community, and it’s crucial to provide opportunities for them,” Peg emphasized, underscoring their determination to enhance the quality of life in Scotland, including affordable housing, park updates, and improvements to the community pool.


When it comes to generating funds for community initiatives, the Behl’s tap into their creativity and entrepreneurial spirits. The Behl’s and other members of the community formed Crazy Eight Productions, a non-profit organization that orchestrates the annual Scotland Haunted House. Every October, nearly fifty volunteers construct, dress up and spook guests in an old building on Main Street. This annual event serves as a source of funds for various community initiatives. Over the years, the production has contributed more than $200,000 back into the community. 


While some may claim that small-town communities have limited offerings, the Behls have demonstrated that anything is possible when you take the first step.


“Whether it’s joining the city council or school board, you have to take that first step by getting involved. If something bothers you, be part of the solution and help create change,” Dick said.


“If you can’t find ways to create positive change, you’re not looking hard enough!” added Peg. 


Dick’s legacy, alongside his family’s enduring commitment, will continue to thrive within the community they have helped shape and nurture for generations.