- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A South Dakota man who drew national attention in the mid-1990s when he paid money from his own pocket to keep the lights on at Mount Rushmore National Memorial during a federal government shutdown has died.

Arthur Oakes, of Keystone, died Monday after a two-year fight with pancreatic cancer, his wife Marilyn said Wednesday. He was 74.

Oakes wrote a check for $240 in late 1995 - when Democratic President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans couldn’t reach a budget agreement - to keep the stone-carved faces of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt illuminated for a week. Marilyn Oakes said her husband wanted to show that ordinary people can make a difference.

“He was adamant that the lights should not be turned off on the Shrine of Democracy,” she said. “He felt that was a total travesty for our U.S. government to do that.”

Oakes was born in Winnemucca, Nevada, in 1939. He held various jobs in his life, including freight deliverer, professional pool player, and bed and breakfast owner. His family said he became politically active in the 1970s while living in Oregon, and that he fought for several causes: personal property rights, healthy forests and the anti-abortion movement. His effort to keep Mount Rushmore lighted drew attention from national and international news organizations, and he even made an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show.

“He was a legendary man,” said his son, Gideon Oakes.

Marilyn Oakes said her husband was never afraid to draw attention to a cause in which he believed.

“I think the key message that my husband had to make is that everybody has more power than they believe they have, simply by going to the ballot box and making an informed vote,” she said.

She said she did not object when her husband took the $240 out of their meager family travel budget in 1995, though “I gulped big-time.” The real financial hit came later, she said, when they had to pay for all of the calls that came in to their analog bag phone - the cellular technology back then. It took the couple four months to pay off the $860 bill, but it was worth it, she said.

“The significance of the lighting at Mount Rushmore was much greater than just turning the lights on,” she said.

Marilyn Oakes said that legacy surfaced last fall, when the state of South Dakota and several corporate donors worked out a deal with the National Park Service to reopen Mount Rushmore during a partial government shutdown.

“If Art had been feeling better, he would have had a heyday with that,” she said.

Oakes‘ funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Mount Rushmore Ward Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rapid City.

“His death is not a tragedy. What he did with his life is what we need to celebrate,” his wife said.


Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake .

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