SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Cindy (Loecker) Huether is perhaps best known as the First Lady of Sioux Falls since 2010, married to Mayor Mike Huether for 32 years.

However, the Yankton native has tackled a number of projects in her own right. She has served the hungry and homeless, promoted the health sciences and contributed to the construction and operation of a new tennis complex.

The Yankton Press & Dakotan reports that Cindy Huether graduated from Yankton High School in 1982. Her mother, Marilyn Loecker, still lives in Yankton. Her father, Vern Loecker, passed away last year.

Cindy Huether recalled enjoying her early years in Yankton.

"It was a great time to grow up," she said. "It was wonderful having the (Lewis and Clark) lake right there (outside of town). There were many summers where I went to the lake and had fun with friends."

The good times continued through her teenage years, she said.

"I loved my time at Yankton High School. We just had great teachers," she said. "I was into gymnastics and was involved with the school newspaper. I was a cheerleader in football and was part of the first year that (South Dakota) had high school playoffs. That was an interesting memory. We lost to (Sioux Falls) O'Gorman in the championship game."

After graduation, Huether attended South Dakota State University in Brookings. There, she earned her medical technology degree and also found her future husband.

Ironically, the Huethers both attended YHS at the same time but didn't know each other until after graduation.

"We met the summer after I graduated from high school," Cindy said. "I had known Mike's brother, Greg, who was in my grade. Through Greg, I met Mike and we dated while at SDSU. "

The Huethers married and lived in Sioux Falls. Cindy worked as a medical technologist at then-Sioux Valley Hospital, which is now Sanford Health. Mike graduated with a degree in commercial economics. He began work in management for Citibank South Dakota, spending five years in the state. He then spent five years in Buffalo, New York, and five years in San Antonio, Texas, before working in seven European countries.

"We returned to Sioux Falls in 1999," Cindy said. "We were building a house at the time. With the move (back to South Dakota), the new house and raising (our daughter) Kylie, I didn't go right back to work."

However, Cindy remained busy in many other ways.

Besides his business career, Mike entered Sioux Falls politics. The decision may not have been surprising, considering that Mike was elected president of both his junior and senior classes at Yankton High School and as student body vice president while attending South Dakota State University.

"Mike has wanted to be in public service since sixth grade," Cindy said. "He always knew that he wanted to go into (politics), and the family has been very supportive of him. He has a talent for it, and he's so good at what he does."

Mike's talent and drive led him to the Sioux Falls mayor's seat. He won his first term in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014. He cannot run again for mayor because of term limits and leaves office this spring.

The Huethers try to draw a line between their public and personal lives where possible. Mike waited until 2010, when his daughter had left home, before making his mayoral run.

"My dad wasn't around much when I was growing up, and I didn't want to do the same thing to Kylie," Mike told the Press & Dakotan at the time.

However, politics was very much a part of the Huether household through the years, Cindy said.

"We've always been kind of involved with politics," she said. "Growing up with Kylie, we always had dinner together. Part of the conversation was talking politics."

Mike holds strong convictions, but he also uses his wife as a sounding board without violating confidential matters.

"Mike and I have very similar beliefs. He asks me for advice. I give it, but that doesn't mean that he listens to it," Cindy said with a laugh. "Obviously, there are things that he needs to keep to himself or with his (mayoral) staff."

Cindy has gained a great deal of insight into the complexities of her husband's role as mayor.

"You have to do what's in the best interest of the city and not what is wanted by a lot of special interests," she said. "I don't think people realize there is much more to decision making than what they read in the news or see covered (by radio and television)."

As First Lady, she fills a number of ceremonial roles.

"It's a title, and you don't have to do (any specific duties) for it," she said. "But it's a big thing. You have all the events that Mike has to attend, and I go with him. It's an opportunity to spend time with him, but it also helps me understand his role and the different areas that he's working on (as mayor)."

However, Cindy's life doesn't revolve strictly around her role as First Lady of Sioux Falls.

The Huethers attend Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Sioux Falls. During the past 15 years, they have been involved in the Banquet and the St. Francis House ministries. The Banquet provides meals to those in need, while the St. Francis House offers transitional housing for the homeless.

"The St. Francis House allows people to save money so they can eventually acquire housing," Cindy said. "The homeless can go there for help. During the day, they have to go to a job and can return overnight. It's the first step in the ladder and allows them to become independent."

Besides her ministry work, Cindy has remained committed to improving health care in South Dakota. She serves on the board of the College of Pharmacy ad Lab Sciences at SDSU. She was presented a ceremonial "white coat" for her work and stewardship in medical technology and lab sciences. In addition, she has a laboratory named in her honor at SDSU that is used by medical technology students.

Cindy sees her work as part of increasing the number of medical professionals in the Rushmore State.

"It's really important, especially in helping the rural areas," she said. "We're also seeing an increasing number of older people in our state (who will need more care). We need to attract and keep our health care professionals."

In recent years, Cindy has developed a passion for tennis both as a player and as a promoter of the sport. She currently serves as board chairman of the Huether Family Match Pointe facility in Sioux Falls.

She has served as longtime president of the Sioux Falls Tennis Association. She was named a South Dakota Tennis Hero and the nation's Tennis Advocate of the Year. In addition, the Huethers were named the United States Tennis Family of the Year by the U.S. Tennis Association, the first South Dakota family to win the honor.

For Cindy, tennis became a family affair both on and off the court.

"I started playing tennis when I was 40. I didn't really play tennis until Kylie started with the sport," Cindy said. "When we moved back to Sioux Falls in 1999, Kylie played tennis for Washington High School and we went to watch her. She went on to play for the College of St. Benedict (in Minnesota). I just developed a love for the game."

As part of her love for tennis, Cindy wanted to see Sioux Falls develop an indoor facility accessible for the general public.

"The Huether Family Cross Pointe facility isn't just for the people of Sioux Falls. We have lots of kids and adults from around the area who come here," she said. "I think what makes me most proud is that the facility is very affordable. There is no membership fee. We just want to be able to give families an opportunity to play tennis all year round."

The Huethers are transitioning out of public life, at least for now. Mike shows no signs of easing up on his "to-do" list as he hits the home stretch as mayor. After that, the Huethers plan to spend more time with their grandchild and to enjoy other pursuits.

However, that doesn't rule out Mike's return to public service in some form.

As she completes her role as First Lady of Sioux Falls, Cindy marvels at how much the city has changed since she returned two decades age. She noted the changes even in the eight years during Mike's tenure, when Sioux Falls grew from 150,000 residents to around 180,000 — and more than 250,000 in the metro area.

"We had lived in big cities (after getting married). When we returned to Sioux Falls in 1999, I did miss all the activities you could do in a big city," she said. "But I think one of the great things now about Sioux Falls is that we have many of those same activities, just not on a bigger scale. You can be busy because there's so much going on all the time."

The Huethers maintain their Yankton ties, returning to the community for family gatherings. In addition, they attended Yankton's games last week as the Bucks won the State "AA" boys' basketball crown in Sioux Falls.

"I didn't know it was 40 years since Yankton last won the state boys basketball championship," Cindy said. "We enjoyed the games, and it was just really fun to see some of (our Yankton friends) and their children."

Cindy has enjoyed her time as First Lady of Sioux Falls, adding she will relish the special relationships she has grown during the past eight years. The Huethers have received words of thanks and appreciation, she said.

"It's just been really rewarding," Cindy said. "At a time when people are really negative or apathetic, it's nice to have people thank you for the sacrifices you make."

In many ways, the best is yet to come, she said.

"Hopefully, this is the start of more good things," she added.

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Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/