Obituary for Thomas Marvin Kerlin at Kinkade Funeral Chapel (2024)

Thomas Marvin Kerlin, age 72, of Sturgis, South Dakota, passed away peacefully in his sleep the morning of Monday, January 30th, 2023, in his home surrounded by loved ones.

Thomas “Tommy” Kerlin was born in Murdo, SD, on July 10, 1950, to Merritt and Thelma Kerlin; the second of two children. He was a mechanic from a young age; he found it thrilling to take something apart, see how it worked, and then put it back together again. Thelma, his mother, was not always fond of this when she’d find her clock in pieces or discover her toaster no longer worked properly. Tom attended elementary school in Murdo and got his first job at age 8 working at a grocery store, making $3 a week. He also worked at local gas stations sweeping off concrete, mowing or cleaning the bathrooms, and he even babysat for some of his neighbors here and there. All while working part-time for his parents at their dry-cleaning shop. His favorite job, at age 11, was working at a gas/repair station where he could get his hands dirty workin’ on cars that pulled off the interstate, filling the tires with air, cleaning the windshield, and looking under the hood to check the oil. At age 14 he bought his first motorcycle, a little Honda. He’d rip around Murdo with his buddies, lookin’ for cute girls to give rides to.

After high school, Tom left Murdo to attend mechanic school in Denver and then spent several years traveling, jumping trains, and hitchhiking across the country. It was the late 60’s and early 70’s, so this was normal. He’d go where he could find work. Tom built trailer homes in Rapid City after the 1972 Black Hills Flood, he worked at a car dealership in Denver, Colorado, and even worked on the railroad for a short time. From South Dakota to California, Denver, Nebraska, and then back to South Dakota, he’d find seasonal work and then say his goodbyes and take off on another adventure.

In 1974, Tom jumped a freight train from Los Angeles to Brookings in search of work, with only a nickel to his name. It’s there he met Lynette, who was a senior at SDSU. Dad was tall, slender, had long sun-soaked, light-colored hair, and a full beard. (Total hippie.) He and Lynette married 6 months later in 1975 and shortly thereafter had three daughters: Jessica, Desiree, and Juliet. Tom and Lynette were married for 27 years before divorcing in 2002.

Throughout Tom’s years in Brookings, he held a variety of jobs. He cut and loaded scrap iron on his big green international truck, worked at UPS as a delivery truck mechanic, ran and occasionally fixed the crane at L.G. Everist, managed a couple junk yards (one of which was our backyard), and started his first business, Rent and Save, all while doing side jobs like welding, chopping wood, and mechanic work out of his little shop on the south side of town.

Dad believed the best way to learn about something was to experience it. He would sometimes bring home animals he’d find on the side of the road - snapping turtles or racoons (Coony was our favorite pet growing up). He’d say, “look what happens when you put this stick in the snapping turtle’s mouth!” (Noted.) He loved taking us girls camping and to the lake where we learned how to kneeboard, ski, and in Iowa… elude the police after shooting off illegal fireworks over the 4th of July in Spirit Lake. Never a dull moment with Dad. Juliet asked him in his final days what one of his fondest memories was as a parent, and he said taking us girls to Lake Okoboji. Ditto Dad, ditto. Some of his other interests included astronomy, geology, history, and music. He’d tell you about something he’d learned or read somewhere and say, “it was pretty inner-esting”. He made breakfast a lot. Over-easy eggs fried in bacon fat in a cast iron pan or Hormel corned beef hash from the can. Always a big spread.

In 2003, he moved to Sturgis, SD. He began cutting down trees and selling firewood around the area. He used huge chainsaws and axes and was known locally as ‘Timber Tom’ – that’s actually what his business card read. In 2009, he met Mimi Stiles. He and Mimi loved each other dearly and were together until Tom took his last breaths. Dad was a dreamer and loved to pan for gold in the Black Hills. Something he taught all four of us girls. He even built his own sluice box for gold mining and taught all our friends how to use a gold pan properly. We’d pile into his old white Jeep Cherokee (with the stump behind the driver’s seat so it’d stay upright) and head down to the creek on Spearfish Canyon to poke around with hopes one of us would strike it rich.

Dad was kind, strong-willed, tough, fun-loving, and a free thinker. He always made friends wherever he was. He loved to tell stories, had a wildly impressive memory, and a crazy good sense of humor. Even at the end, his doctors and nurses would comment on his quick wit. He could make anyone chuckle. Or at least smile and shake their head. He lived for adventure and loved working with his hands, being a mechanic, tinkering and making things work. He enjoyed panning for gold, being in the woods, building, fixing, and riding motorcycles, and spending time working in Jessica’s antique shop interacting with customers. Above all, he adored his girls, and his grandkids. It was always clear that our father loved us. He supported us endlessly, never judged our sometimes-stupid decisions, and loved us for who we were. He taught us to work hard, respect each other, take a chance on something new -and to change our own oil.

Dad said his idea of spirituality was taking a walk around a lake. I’d like to think we’ll all meet him some day on that shore. He was loved by many, and although he’s crossed that river, he’ll live on forever in our stories and in our hearts.

Tom is survived by his partner, Mimi Stiles; ex-wife, Lynette Kerlin; daughters, Desiree (Justin) Moe of Forest Lake, MN, and Juliet Kerlin (Andrew Dwyer) of Minneapolis, MN; and grandchildren, Yike, Olen, and Agatha Moe.

He was preceded in death by his father, Merritt Kerlin; mother, Thelma Kerlin; brother, James Kerlin; daughter, Jessica Kerlin; and granddaughter, Anjuli Kerlin.

His Celebration of Life and Memorial Motorcycle Ride will be held in Sturgis, SD, this summer.

Visit for more information.

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the American Heart Association or the Black Hills Parks and Forests Association.

Obituary for Thomas Marvin Kerlin at Kinkade Funeral Chapel (2024)
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