Jared Carson, Citizen of the Year

By Ron Burtz

Jared Carson is constantly waving the flag for the City of Custer, whether literally, as he did in parades during his time as mayor, such as this July 4 parade, or figuratively, working to bring new businesses to Custer. The last year was no exception, which drove the Chronicle to name Carson its Citzen of the Year for 2018

“Jared Carson genuinely cares about Custer.” It seems that no matter who you talk to in reference to the Custer businessman and government leader you will hear some version of that refrain. 

Whether it’s in his work as a realtor and property manager, his service as mayor and school board president, his volunteerism with Custer County Search & Rescue (SAR) or his involvement as the public face of Sustainable Light Industrial Complex and energy (SLIC-e), those who work alongside Carson say it’s a love for his community and its people that is his prime motivator. Those numerous involvements and that passionate dedication are the reasons Carson has been named the Custer County Chronicle Citizen of the Year for 2018.

“I was totally shocked and taken aback but I’m not surprised,” said Carson’s business partner Sheila Green when told of the award. “He deserves it. He’s always involved. He cares about people.” 

Green has an especially unique and intimate perspective on Carson because she is also his mother and has watched him grow from a young boy who sometimes struggled with the rigid confines and requirements of a typical classroom into a confident leader who has a way of bringing positive change into every situation where he gets involved.

Born in Texas, Carson moved with his mother and younger sister Erin to Rapid City in 1987. After Sheila met and married Jerry Green, the family moved to Custer in 1994 where Jared started as a freshman in high school.

“We wanted to get into a smaller town for the kids,” said Green.

When he graduated from Custer High School in 1998 Carson had offers of full-ride scholarships from several universities, but settled on Texas Tech. The school was not a good fit for Carson, however, and he left Texas after the first semester and came back to Custer where he worked two jobs before joining the U.S. Army. He left home at Christmastime 1999 for Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., to begin his seven-year service to his country.

The Army turned out to be a good fit for Carson and when his four-year enlistment was up he reenlisted and served for several years with the Judge Advocate General’s office (JAG) at Ft. Hood, Texas, where he was involved in the prosecution of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse case. 

Carson’s caring spirit was put on display in a dramatic way in early 2007 when the teenage daughter of a good friend at JAG was desperately in need of a kidney transplant. Riley’s father had already donated one of his kidneys to her when she was seven but her body was rejecting that organ. 

“She didn’t need the closest match,” says Green, “She needed somebody that she hadn’t already built up antibodies to.”

Riley had been on the transplant list for some time and her condition was worsening, so Carson offered to be tested to see if he would be a match but the family turned him down.  

“He went ahead and did [the testing] without them even knowing,” says Green. “He turned out to be a good match.”

However, there was a problem. The Army would not allow an active duty soldier to donate an organ and the time to recover. So, even though he was considering reenlisting for another hitch, Carson resigned from the military and went through with the donation surgery on April 27, 2007. The operation was successful and Riley went on to graduate from high school and then college. Today she is married and has two children. 

Although Carson left active duty at that time he remained with the Army reserves until 2010. 

Carson spent 18 months in Lubbock, Texas, looking after his father who was dying of colon cancer then moved back to Custer in September of 2011.  

After arriving back home, Carson decided to go into the real estate business in partnership with his mother and was able to get his license in an amazingly short amount of time. Today he is the chief financial officer and Sheila is the chief executive officer of Green Real Estate and Investment Group LLC.

Ever one to be involved in the community, Carson joined SAR, the Masonic Lodge and the VFW.

“He doesn’t know how to say ‘no’ any better than his mamma does,” says Green. 

Even though Carson was joining local organizations in his first couple of years back, Green says she wasn’t sure he would stay in Custer, perhaps preferring to open a branch office closer to Rapid City. The “turning point” came, however, in 2015 when he ran for mayor of Custer and won, becoming the youngest mayor in the town’s history. That move, she believes, is what transformed Carson from a mere resident of the community to a true native son and supporter of Custer. 

Carson served one term as mayor and shook up the status quo in city government. 

“He ran for mayor because he felt there was a need for a change in direction for the city government in order to keep this an active and lively town,” said Green. “From two years before he was mayor until now there is so much difference. We’ve got new businesses in and young people stepping up…people his age. We were just almost stagnating before that.”  

“Custer had kind of held on to the eldership a lot longer than we should have,” said Green. “We can’t stay the same or we go backwards. Jared believes the way to keep this place alive is to diversify. He doesn’t want to wipe away the tourism. I mean, that’s the foundation of practically the whole state and certainly this area, but we can’t rely on just tourism because we can’t be a four-month community.”

When his two-year term as mayor expired Carson ran for school board in 2017 and today serves as president of that body. 

“What I really look for in a board president,” said Superintendent of School Mark Naugle, “is someone that really run the meetings and understands the procedure that we’re going through, and Jared certainly can do that. I think he’s got a good feel of when people want to talk more and when we’re ready to go ahead and take action on an issue. I think he’s really level headed and is able to make the appropriate comments and share what he’s feeling about issues. I just think he does a great job.”

Naugle continued to say he believes Carson is highly deserving of the Citizen of the Year title: 

“There’s not much that he’s not part of going on in town, and that’s really a testament to him. He spends a lot of time devoted to the city. He’s trying to do a lot to make our community grow and prosper and I think it’s a great recognition for him because of his work in that area.”

Another person who has worked closely with Carson over the past several years and has seen his dedication and passion is SAR director Rick March. 

“When Jared comes to a call or training he has leadership experience and enthusiasm that is hard to replace,” said March, adding that Carson’s ranch upbringing (from spending summers and holidays working on his grandparents’ ranch in Texas), military background, sales experience and time spent in the outdoors all contribute to his unique qualifications as a leader.

“I’m not sure you could isolate one thing in his background. It’s all of the above,” he said. 

“There are getting to be fewer and fewer people with that ranch-raised background,” said March. “You grow up knowing how to do what you have to do to get the job done.”

March says ranch kids gain valuable experience because they start working with their families at a young age, but “most young people today watch their parents go to work.”

Carson served as SAR training coordinator for several years until he became mayor and it became evident he had to cut back some of his other involvements. 

March says although Carson is “one of the busier guys in Custer” he still finds time to help with SAR, going out on 15 percent of the agency’s calls in 2018, which is just a few percentage points below the median level of 22 percent for most members. 

“I think it’s a great choice,” said March of the Citizen of the Year honor. “He’s a leader in the community and cares deeply about the community. It’s not just about business. He’s concerned about it being a quality community for people to move into.” 

March says there is no “false front” with Carson. 

“His enthusiasm and concern is who he is, ” he says. 

In the past year Carson has taken on an even more influential role in guiding Custer’s future in becoming the president of SLIC-e Holdings LLC, the group of investors that purchased the former STAR Academy south of Custer from the State of South Dakota at auction nearly a year ago. 

Local architect Gene Fennell, who has been involved with the project from the beginning as an officer of the Custer Area Economic Development Corp., says because of his extensive experience, Carson was a natural fit to be the public face of the organization. He says the other investors thought of Carson as “a person who can bring calm to the tossing seas.” 

“He comes into it with a pretty solid—through his military experience and such—understanding of governance,” said Fennell, adding that Carson also knows the legal side of things.

“He understands contracts and what to look out for,” Fennell said. 

Fennell also notes Carson’s solid understanding of economics.

“He can read balance sheets, and he knows how to look at it from a business standpoint rather than an emotional standpoint,” said Fennell. “He knows it can’t be about emotions and it can’t be anecdotal. It has to be about the facts.”

When it comes to his leadership on the school board Fennell says, “Jared asks the right questions. He has the ability to take the skin off the orange and get down to the individual sections.” 

A reception in Carson’s honor will be held on Thursday, Jan. 10, from 5-7 p.m. at Custer Senior Citizens Center. Refreshments will be served and the public is invited to attend. 

The dictionary defines a “booster” as “a keen promoter of a person, organization, or cause.” According to that definition Jared Carson could certainly be called a booster for the Custer area. 

His mother agrees. “I don’t think we could pry him out with a stick at this point,” said Green. “He really loves this community. He sees the value of this small town. It’s just a gem in the Hills.”