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Charles Kendall Gerlach (Chuck)

Rapid City, SD

1935, 1793, Pine Creek (Keystone), SP-1 Member

RAPID CITY | Born June 13, 1918, in Newell, South Dakota, to June Kendall and Melville R. Gerlach, Charles Kendall "Chuck" Gerlach was the oldest of five siblings in a family that, like so many others, was hard hit by the Great Depression several years later. Leaving home before completing his sophomore year in high school, Chuck joined the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps for a six-month period in 1934. Here he soon became head of the utilities department at his camp, an experience that later led him to try his hand as an apprentice plumber. However, steady work was hard to find during the 1930's.

Beginning in 1937 Chuck traveled extensively throughout the western United States, traveling like many young men of the time by "riding the rails," sneaking aboard rolling freight trains and moving about the country in search of jobs and incidental adventure. Young, fearless, and eager to work, Chuck found a variety of jobs and his share of incidental adventure.

In 1941 he returned home to South Dakota. Through a friend of his mother he met Audrey Lund, who had earlier come to Rapid City from Faith to attend Black Hills Business College and stayed when she found work at Buckingham Transportation Company. They were married on her 23rd birthday, January 31, 1942, just weeks after the United States had entered World War II.

Chuck joined the U.S. Navy that same March and spent most of the war years as a Chief Petty Officer aboard the USS Guadalcanal, a small aircraft carrier.

Returning to Rapid City after his discharge at the end of 1945, he went to work for Renshaw Plumbing, a business he and brother-in-law W. C. "Bill" Ebert bought in 1949 and operated as Gerlach and Ebert Plumbing and Heating for more than 40 years. Throughout that time Chuck was active in both the South Dakota and National Associations of Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors. He served as a regional director of the national association and two terms as president of the state organization.

Although lacking formal education beyond that sophomore year in high school, Chuck possessed an innate ability for figuring out how things work and then how to fix them and improve them. He was an avid reader and became a lifelong, self-taught learner who continued to develop new interests and skills long after he retired from the mechanical contracting business. In 1992 he and Audrey moved to Westhills Village where, among other things, he served on the Residents' Council and ran the woodworking shop for many years.

He was a long-time member of the First Presbyterian Church, a church elder, and member of many church committees. He was a Past Master of Mt. Rushmore Masonic Lodge #220, Past Commander of Schraeder Commandery #9, Past Puissant Sovereign, Black Hills Conclave Red Cross of Constantine, and Past Worthy Patron of Golden Link Chapter#14, Order of Eastern Star. He was a member of Royal Arch Masons, Black Hills Chapter#25 and Black Hills Council Cryptic Masons #3. He was also a member of B.P.O.E., VFW, and the American Legion.

Those who knew Chuck best will always remember the way he embraced life with adventurous curiosity, generous spirit, resilient strength, and solid common sense. Nor will they likely forget his wonderful stories and special sense of humor.

Chuck died Sept. 7, 2013, at Rapid City Regional Hospital at the age of 95.

He is survived by his daughter, Linda Brady, Littleton, CO; son, Mel Gerlach, Prescott, AZ; two sisters, Gail Rowett, Rapid City, and Carroll Denison, Palatine, IL; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife, Audrey, and two brothers Delbert and Richard.

Memorial services for Chuck and Audrey will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at First Presbyterian Church, with the Rev. Jeff Kintner officiating.

Inurnment will follow in Black Hills National Cemetery with military honors rendered by Rushmore VFW Post 1273 and the South Dakota Army Reserve National Guard.

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