This isn’t going to be an ordinary obituary. Sherl wasn’t an ordinary man. His wife Deb asked me to write this though and I will do my best. Much of this obituary will be in the first person because I have no idea how to write this any other way or how to tell all the stories I need to tell except in first person. I know this though: Sherl did far more for me than I could ever have done for him and I am extraordinarily grateful.
First, I can’t imagine two people having a better marriage than Deb and Sherl. They were so well-matched in life from when they first met at K-Mart in Rapid City, a happy circumstance that might never have happened had Sherl stayed with Uniroyal instead of accepting a move to K-Mart. You should be so lucky if your marriage was that good. I had a ringside seat for many years, and I can assure that they were blessed. I don’t mean that they agreed on everything but that they could trust each other about everything. Deb knew she never had to worry about buying a car, or fixing a car, or asking Sherl to take care of something around the house. He just did those things without asking and without having to ask. If something needed to be done, he did it. If he didn’t know how, he would teach himself. Deb wasn’t the only person who learned to rely on Sherl to solve problems. Anyone could call him about car problems, or home repairs or gas pump problems, and he could usually diagnose problems over the phone and offer solutions.
Sherl was a problem solver. He liked solving puzzles and figuring out how things worked, and he was that way his whole life. He embraced technology. He was happy to watch a video on YouTube to learn how to do something, though most times he figured out how to improve the method. The last car he ever purchased was an electric hybrid which struck him as perfect for his solar powered house in Las Vegas. An electric car might seem odd when talking about a man who owned seventeen Corvettes in his life and once sold a restored gas pump for $21,000 (a double visible if you’re interested), but while he sold nostalgic items, he never got trapped in the past.
I am going to share two stories about Sherl here.
First, he was a large man, even from a young age, and physically the strongest man I have ever known personally. And yet, I rarely saw him get angry and never get violent. I asked him about that. He said that once when he was young, and angry with someone, he realized he could kill the man, and I mean that literally. He made a choice. He could have been a bully, could have intimidated most people and frankly, backed it up with violence. That he never used violence, was not an accident but a choice he made about how he would treat people. He could be grouchy, or rude to people who earned it, but he was never cruel and was usually kind, even to people who didn’t deserve it. Let that be a lesson to choose kindness. I think his life was better for it; I know my life and that of so many other people was better for it.
Second, I once asked that if he had to choose to give up a food, would he give up meat or potatoes? Meat, he said, and after a pause, said no, potatoes. I think he might have thought he should pick meat over potatoes but I always thought the first answer was the true answer. I have never known anyone who made better French fried potatoes. I have never known anyone who went through more fry babies due to the number of fries that he made. And he held a grudge against McDonalds for the rest of his life for switching from fresh potatoes to frozen potatoes in the 1960’s. At one of the last meals I ever had with him, the mashed potatoes weren’t quite up to snuff (the potatoes were too old) and the dish had to be discarded and redone with better potatoes. The man loved his potatoes.
Sherl was a child of the west. He lived in western cities most of his life - though he always loved Virginia Beach after living and working there in the 1970’s. He and Deb eventually retired to Las Vegas because Sherl was ready to get out of the snow; a bit funny, as he was one of those people who could work outdoors in freezing weather in a t-shirt without getting cold.
He grew up in Boise (“s” sound not “z”). His father Dean seemed to have worked for everyone in Idaho at some time during his life. Sherl started working at a young age and worked with his father at auto dealers in the area. He learned to work hard from his father. He was more successful financially than his father but he recognized that he had some good luck that eluded his father. His mother Iola worked with the Idaho historical society, and a fond childhood memory of his was playing with guns recovered from the Lewis & Clark expedition.
Sherl was a proud graduate of BYU. He would move away from the church (a jack Mormon as they say in the west) but he was always respected the church. Anyone could tell, by the number of freezers at his house and by the size of his pantry, the LDS church had a great influence on him.
After BYU, he got his start selling tires for JC Penney in Salt Lake City. He moved on to Uniroyal and worked out of the Uniroyal offices in Houston, flying around the country and working on tire sales. He worked in Virginia and ultimately due to business changes at Uniroyal, moved over to K-Mart automotive. K-Mart moved him out to Casper and Rapid City, and then promoted him to a district position in Albuquerque before moving back into stores in Denver.
It was at this time that Deb moved to Denver and took a job at Target. In 1982, on a Labor Day trip to Rapid City, Deb’s mother, Marge Hunt, arranged their wedding at Stavkirke in Rapid City. At the start of the trip, they had agreed to get married at some point in the far future, and were a little surprised at how quickly Marge could arrange a wedding.
One of the best days for Sherl was when Deb was promoted to store manager at Target. He was not the kind of man to ever feel threatened by his wife’s success (no doubt part of the reason they were such great partners). Sherl left K-Mart and embarked on a long and successful career of buying junk and selling antiques.
He was always a good shopper because he knew how to spot deals and he was successful as a seller because he could recognize the value in things and be patient about getting his price. The real reason for his success in gas pumps and antiques though was because he was interested in the stories behind the items and in the stories of the people who owned them. His business grew from a hobby in Denver of picking up a few items of value and selling them to running a small business out in Seattle where he had a dozen booths in malls across the metro, usually the most successful booth in the store.
From there, Sherl opened the Past Gas shops at the Pegasus Theatre by developing an old movie theatre on the Snohomish Washington riverfront. The store became an institution for a generation in Snohomish. When he finally wound down the business and retired - a word I use loosely - the value of the building had tripled due to his remodeling skills. He had the eye of an architect when looking at the design changes that people wanted in a building.
Many of you know Sherl from these years in Snohomish and you know of his wide range of knowledge about antiques in general and about Coca-Cola memorabilia and gas pumps in particular. It will take Deb years to find new homes for all of his Coke memorabilia and his restored gas pumps, and for the many, many Coke machine and gas pump parts he still had in different locations. Sherl never retired and he didn’t even slow down that much. He was in the middle of dozens of projects when he died because he was always in the middle of dozens of projects. He was happiest in the middle of projects. He was not a man to sit back and watch things happen. Once he decided to make a home repair or car repair or a gas pump project happen, it usually happened pretty quickly.
There is so much more I should tell, so much more I could tell. Anyone reading this has a remarkable story or two about Sherl that ought to be included here. I can’t help but think about all the projects I helped him with because Deb wanted something done. When she would come home from work on those days - I tell you, Sherl worked fast --she was usually surprised to find what she had wanted done. I suspect that some of it, like the water gardens and holiday decorations happened because Sherl loved such things.
I do have to pass along one more story. Growing up, we had a family dog named Sandy. Sandy was always Deb’s dog. If Sandy could get out in the morning, she would go to school and wait there for Deb (Okay, as the last child to leave in the morning, I helped Sandy’s escape efforts). Anyway, Sandy lived long enough to make it to Denver with Deb. One day, she came home and Sandy wasn’t there. Deb panicked. Finally, Sherl got home and Sandy was with him. Deb couldn’t quite remember Sandy ever going off with anyone else. Sherl liked to drive and he liked to let the dogs drive with him, and there could not have been a better sign Deb and Sherl than Sandy choosing to ride with Sherl.
His passing has left a Sherl-sized hole in all of our hearts.
Sherl is survived by his wife Deb, and her sisters and brothers, Traci and Mark, and Jay and Barbara, by his sister-in-law Bobbi Stocking, and by his eight nieces and nephews, Kelly, Kim and Rodger, Wade and Margaret, Jaylyn, Rex and Erin, Scott and Beth, Stacy, and Kari and Robert, and grand nieces and nephews and even great grand nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his father Parley Dean, his mother Iola Merrill, his brother Larry, his mother in law Marge and his sister-in-law, Pam. Sherl was adopted when he was young, but he always knew who his family was.
I said I would tell you two stories, and then three, but I am going to add a fourth. In Denver, Sherl built an upstairs room that also extended over the property next door. The two homes had garages that shared a common wall, and Deb and Sherl owned both properties. Sherl built up to building code standards but not always with a permit, especially in a case where the permitting authorities might have frowned on a room for one property that extended over the second. When Deb and Sherl were ready to sell, he went up and closed off the room. One of the houses still had a den, albeit smaller; the other house had an upstairs room that could no longer be accessed. Years later, the tenant in the second house, having climbed up on the roof to investigate several windows that seemed to serve no purpose, called him and asked him to get into the secret room. Now honestly, who doesn’t want a house with a secret room? I smile, because years from now, someone else will discover Sherl’s secret room, not on any building permits or house plans, and wonder how to get in there.
That secret room is one of the keys to understanding Sherl. Why did he leave a secret room instead of tearing it out? Well, when someone found the secret room, he just laughed and I think he was pleased it had been found. He was always surprising people. He sold gas pumps and worked on muscle cars when he was young, but he was ready for self-driving electric cars. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty from work but he loved to dress up and knew the difference between a good pair of shoes and a cheap pair of shoes or a good tie and a cheap tie. He loved going on cruises and always looked good in his cruising clothes, and yes, he did get to Australia before he died. He did unexpected things and he took delight in things you might not have expected him to like. He adapted to life when he got older. Getting older was not a series of endless losses but simply a problem-solving challenge for him to surmount his limitations. His life came to an end far, far too soon, and the only blessing is that the end was swift. He wanted to stay but to stay on his terms.