Retiree sacrifices summer travel to show off southern Black Hills

Retiree sacrifices summer travel to show off southern Black Hills

Retirees often hit the road during their golden years, taking advantage of their newfound freedom by traveling. Dave Ressler doesn’t have that luxury – at least not when the weather is nice.  

“I’ve never been able to travel during summer because I’ve always been in the tourism industry, and that’s our busy time,” he says. He quickly adds, “The beauty of it is, I have fun doing what I do. It’s not really work.” 

Dave and his wife Patty own and operate Dave’s World Tours, a sightseeing company offering private tours of the southern Black Hills. And yes, he’s retired – but you wouldn’t know that judging by how busy he is shuttling people around southwestern South Dakota throughout the year.  

Transplants make leap of faith 

The Resslers are South Dakota transplants coming up on 20 years in Custer. He’s spent most of his life working in the nonprofit sector, a journey that took him from the YMCA to director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and eventually, director of the Manitowoc-Two Rivers Chamber of Commerce in Wisconsin. He might still be living in America’s dairy land today if not for a fateful trip to the Black Hills in 2005. 

“Patty and I came out here on vacation and fell in love with the area,” he says. “We were at the chamber of commerce in Custer looking for information, and the gal there said, ‘I’m going to be leaving pretty soon if you’re interested.’ So, we took a $50,000 cut in pay from Wisconsin and moved to South Dakota.”  

Custer’s small-town charm, community involvement, and abundant recreational opportunities inspired the Resslers’ leap of faith. That and the town’s residents. 

“If we didn’t enjoy the people, we wouldn’t think to stay here,” Dave says. “We like the people, the accessibility, the options in our backyard – there’s trail hiking, biking, all kinds of things to do in a small community environment. It’s a community that’s had some great leadership over the years. People have had a vision and pushed forward.”  

As chamber of commerce director, Dave played a crucial role in shaping Custer’s future himself. He retired at age 58, figuring he’d earned the right to relax for a while.  

That didn’t last long. 

Personalized tours fill a void 

“I sat around for a year and enjoyed not doing anything,” Dave says. “But that got boring pretty quickly.”  

Recalling his days as chamber director, he remembered that people came in all the time looking for economic development opportunities in niche markets. One thing the area lacked was a tour company. There were plenty in Rapid City and Deadwood, but nothing catering to the southern part of the Black Hills. Dave stepped in to fill the void, opening Dave’s World Tours in 2020 – but the timing was less than ideal. 

“The first year was COVID,” he says, adding sarcastically, “That was a brilliant move on our part!” 

Restrictions eased the following year, and travel rebounded in a big way. Dave’s World Tours grew from one vehicle to five and expanded to include seven contracted guides, all of whom are “retired” like Dave.  

Unlike most companies, Dave’s World Tours offers private tours that are personalized to each client’s specific requests. Most include some combination of Mount Rushmore, Black Elk Peak, Sylvan Lake, Crazy Horse Memorial, Needles Eye Tunnel, Custer State Park, Iron Mountain Road, and the Wildlife Loop. Typical clientele are visitors between the ages of 35-65 looking for help planning an itinerary. 

“Completely personalized tours are something nobody else does,” Dave explains proudly. “You tell us what you want to do, we break it down for you. I talk to you, learn about your personality, and try to line you up with a guide who’s the best fit to you and your tour.” 

Several tours are customer favorites, such as the Parks & Monuments tour. Dave’s World Tours also offers bike shuttles on the Mickelson Trail and Rapid City Regional Airport shuttles. These are just as popular with locals during the winter months as they are with tourists in the summer. 

Golden West services let Dave roam 

Given the nontraditional nature of his work, Dave believes he’d have a difficult time operating a mobile tour company without Golden West’s services. 

“Sitting behind a desk is not what this job is about,” he explains. “Their internet services are incredible.” 

Dave’s relationship with Golden West dates to his earliest days in Custer, when they supplied office equipment that enabled the chamber of commerce to keep up with modern technology.  He knows most of the service techs personally and his home was one of the first in the community to get fiber.  

“I remember them digging in our backyard years and years ago and I thought wow – you’ve got to be kidding me – this is great for a small town to have that!” he recalls.   

Dave says that while Golden West is a big part of his company, his wife is the biggest part. 

“Patty’s got a real job, plus she’s the co-owner and CFO of Dave’s World Tours,” he says. “She does all the books and taxes and keeps me in line. It’s a family operation and she is the driving force. A lot of people think Dave’s a great guy, but she’s the great gal behind the scenes that makes it all happen. I got lucky; I married my best friend.” 

So, the burning question remains: will Dave ever get to spend his summers traveling? He ponders the question for several minutes but is unable to answer that definitively. That doesn’t mean he has nothing to say on the subject.  

“I had a year off and I really enjoyed that, but this is great,” he says. “I love life! Dave’s World is fun. Life is supposed to be fun!”



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