“It was quite a culture shock,” he said of the draft. “I’d had this Beaver Cleaver childhood in Mitchell, S.D. Then I was told I was going off to war.”
Volk’s military service, which lasted through 1971, sent him in a different direction — for a while, at least. Upon returning to civilian life in South Dakota, he ran for state treasurer, a post he won at age 25 and held for 18 years.
While working for the government, he wrote a memoir titled, “Draftee: A High School Teacher Goes to War,” to communicate with his friends from the 101st Airborne Division. It caught the attention of former South Dakota Attorney General Mark Meierhenry, who recognized Volk’s gift for educating in a candid and interesting way. Meierhenry suggested that the two pair up and write children’s books to teach about South Dakota. Together, they created a four-part series about twins Max and Hannah, who go on adventures with their grandfather to learn about their state’s traditions, such as pheasant hunting, and natural treasures, including a 762-year-old Ponderosa pine tree.
In 2011, Volk, who winters at Casa del Mar, wrote another book about Vietnam, “My Grandpa’s War,” told from a 9-year-old girl’s point of view. It received lengthy reviews on Amazon.com from veterans and historians who praised a children’s book that could capture a tumultuous era with such poignancy. It’s feedback like that — not the money — that convinces Volk he’s landed the perfect second career.
“People can’t understand why I walked away from politics, but this is much more fulfilling,” he said. “It took a while, but I finally got to do what I was meant to do: teach.”