O. KIRK EHLERS
Britton, SD: The funeral service for O. Kirk Ehlers was held at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, July 13, 2020 at First Lutheran Church in Britton with Rev. Terrill Sorensen officiating. There will be visitation one hour prior to the service at the church. Interment will be in the Britton Cemetery under the direction of Price Funeral Chapel of Britton.
O. Kirk Ehlers was born July 1st, 1930 at Ellendale, North Dakota to Oscar Kirk “Jack” Ehlers and Otellia Bertina (Hillesland) Ehlers. Kirk lived in Ellendale until he was 12 years of age and then moved to Britton, South Dakota. He graduated from Britton High School in 1948 and after one year of college at the University of North Dakota Kirk received an appointment to West Point.
On December 28th, 1955 he was united in marriage to Lois Mary Ehlers at McLaughlin, SD. Together they raised six children. From 1955 to 1974 the Army moved Kirk, a civil engineer, and his family from Champaign, IL; Fort Belvoir, VA; Heidelberg, Germany to Rapid City, SD; Norfolk, VA; Alexandria, VA; Fort Hood, TX and back to Rapid City, his last tour of duty, where he retired from the Army.
Kirk continued as a consulting engineer on several national and international projects. He married Mary Irene “Renie” Maloy in 1981 at Atlanta, GA. He and Renie lived in Georgia, Maryland, Texas, and retired in Georgia. Renie passed away in 2004.
He and his little dog Gracie moved back to Britton, SD in the fall of 2005 to be close to his sister Amy and her family. Kirk was involved in several community organizations, he loved to play poker, attend local sporting events and was an avid TV viewer. He donated to many charities, he was generous, practical and to the point, and an honest and kind man.
Kirk passed away peacefully on Wednesday, July 8th, 2020 at the Good Samaritan Village in Sioux Falls, SD. He was 90 years of age.
Honoring his memory are his children: Dawn Gowery of Kingwood, Texas; Denise Thingelstad of Watertown, South Dakota; Mary Husen of Sioux City, Iowa; Owen Ehlers of NewCastle, Nebraska; Alicia Salas of Lead, South Dakota; Sandra Ehlers of Becida, Minnesota; Step Children: Suzy (Christian) Smith of Carrolton, Georgia and Jeff Jordan of Midway, Georgia; 12 grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren, one great-great grandchild, and a number of nieces and nephews and their families.
Preceding him in death are his parents, Jack and Otellia Ehlers, his sister, Amaryllis Rabenberg, his wife Mary Irene Ehlers, two sons-in-law: Robert Thingelstad and Steve Husen, and two grandchildren: Laura Thingelstad and Tyrone “Ty” Gowery.
An article in the January 28, 2009 Britton Journal details Dad’s adventurous and momentous life. Kirk Ehlers could almost
Kirk Ehlers could almost write his own history book. The 1948 Britton High School graduate came back to his hometown in 2005, and the 57 years in between were aligned with a number of history-making events. Part of that history is now
Part of that history is now housed in the Marshall County Prayer Rock Museum. The retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel donated two uniforms – his dress blues and regular dress uniform – to be part of the museum’s armed forces uniform display.
A 1953 West Point graduate, graduating third in his class, Ehlers spent time in Korea during the armistice. He worked on the underground atomic testing site in Nevada, and completed tours in Germany, Thailand, and Vietnam. Upon retiring from the ser
Upon retiring from the service in 1974, his historical connections continued.
He used his experience in underground construction to become involved in copper mining in Arizona and spent two and a half years in Iran, he was a resident engineer for construction of the downtown subway station in Atlanta, worked on the 7,200-foot long, eight-lane Fort McHenry tunnel that goes under Baltimore Harbor in Baltimore, MD; and worked on a railway loading facility for General Motors in Tarrytown, NY that shipped the first mini-vans.
He then moved to Texas, working on the Super Collider program for nearly five years that included a tunnel 50 miles in diameter particle accelerator located 100 to 150 feet in the ground. That project ended when the government decided to end funding and the tunnel was filled up.
“It was a shame that the project didn’t go on,” recounted Ehlers. “It was a political victim.”
And his swan song – a subway tunnel under the Nile River in Egypt. He left that project on vacation but was never to return when he experienced health problems.
Looking back on his storied careers, Ehlers talks rather matter-of-factly about his life.
“Like so many people say, what we do is just look forward to the next thing.” Ehlers used the philosophy
Ehlers used the philosophy to take advantage of opportunities when they arose. He ad mits that he had no grand plan in his life.
His family moved from Ellendale, ND, to Britton when he was 12 years old and his father was the principal and a coach at the school. After graduating from high school, he went to the University of North Dakota and was studying chemistry. But then came the event that would alter the rest of his life.
Ehlers didn’t know that he had been nominated for West Point, and still doesn’t know for sure how he got on the list.
“I think the Judge King of Britton might have nominated me, but at that time each of the U.S. Senators and Representatives nominated four people in order, and I had an alternate nomination. In June after that year at UND I got a letter that said I had an appointment to West Point if I wanted it, and I needed to report in July. It just kind of happened.”
The lure of a free education was the primary reason Ehlers decided to “go try it out.”
Four years later he was a graduate and commissioned in the Corps of Engineers. He built ammunition depots, roads, and a lot of housing in Korea before going to the University of Illinois to get his master’s in civil engineering.
That led to work with engineering research and development labs and the nuclear testing program where he had his first experience with underground work.
Ehlers had stops in Germany and a tour of duty as ROTC instructor at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Rapid City, SD. He spent time in Thailand from 1967-68 in support of the Vietnam effort before going to armed forces staff college at Norfolk, VA and then commanding a construction battalion at Fort Hood in Texas. He went to Vietnam to help in building their national highway system before returning to South Dakota Tech and retiring from service in 1974.
“I was happy doing what I did, but the Army is a young man’s game. After 21 years it was time to get out,” said Ehlers.
But that Army background continued to serve him well in the civilian world.
Just over three years ago Ehlers life came full circle when he returned to Britton. Again, he did not script it.
“I can’t really say I was planning to come back to Britton,” said Ehlers. “We were living in Georgia and when my wife died, I had more ties in Britton than I did there, so I ended up where I started. But I probably wouldn’t have come if my sister (Amy Rabenberg) hadn’t lived here.”
Now it’s on to the next chapter, and Ehlers has made it a practice to never look back.
“I don’t think much about what happened previously. You can only go one direction at a time, and there’s no sense in worrying about the whatifs.”
May I be no man’s enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides. May I never quarrel with those nearest to me; and if I do, may I be reconciled quickly. May I love, seek and attain only that which is good. May I wish for all peoples’ happiness and envy none.
Condolences may be di rected to the family in care of Denise Thingelstad – 408 1st St. SW – Watertown, SD 57201.
An online guestbook and obituary are available at www. pricefuneralchapel.net