The mood in Mitchell, South Dakota, was light and festive. The $8.5 million library honoring George and Eleanor McGovern opened with dignitaries filling the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University. It's the school McGovern attended and later taught at before entering a life of politics. It's also the place where he met his beloved Eleanor.
They met in 1940, and married in 1943.
Now 84, McGovern said war marriages were not supposed to last. But this Halloween, George and Eleanor will celebrate 63 years of marriage.
Many paid tribute to Eleanor for her dedication to public service alongside her husband. George McGovern insisted the library bear both their names, because he has described her as his partner and the reason for his success.
"The only sadness in this happy occasion today is that Eleanor is not here," said McGovern. "She's critically ill, and as the old song goes she's in the hands of the Almighty at this time."
McGovern told the crowd that doctors have done all they can for her, and that Eleanor is resting comfortably in their mountain home in Montana.
Despite the somber moment, McGovern kept the mood light and the politics non-partisan -- as Republicans and Democrats came to honor his life and legacy.
Former President Bill Clinton worked on McGovern's losing presidential campaign in 1972. Clinton said McGovern inspired many people to work for justice, decency and a better life for Americans and the needy around the world. He said no other presidential candidate ever had such an enduring impact in defeat.
"Even today we feel, often as we did then, to see all defeat as temporary. All victories as obligations, all imperfection as human, and opportunities to improve and all public service as noble," said Clinton.
Clinton said the fires McGovern lit then still burn in countless hearts today.
The McGovern Library and Center for Leadership and Public Service is more than just another college library. It also houses the official papers and memoirs of George McGovern.
South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds said he was there to represent all South Dakotans. The Republican governor talked about what the library and leadership center will do for future generations.
Rounds said students will learn firsthand about George and Eleanor McGovern, and what led them to a life of public service.
"They will learn about that touch of class. The ability to be kind and still disagree. The ability to be a hard worker and to be forthright in your beliefs, at the same time polished and sincere in your dealings with your fellow man," Rounds said.
George McGovern said he's not done with public service -- that he wants to live long enough to wipe out hunger. He's already been successful in starting a school lunch program around the world -- a project he has championed along with former Republican Sen. Bob Dole.