August 28, 2016

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Gordon Thomsen, Founder, 1927-2016

MITCHELL, SD – Gordon Franklin Thomsen, 89, founder of Trail King Industries, passed away in Mitchell, SD on August 28, 2016 after a lengthy struggle with Parkinson's disease.

A 46-year resident of Mitchell, Thomsen was known as a person who wasn't afraid of a challenge and was a champion of many philanthropic groups in the community.

Gordon was born on a farm near Spencer, Iowa in 1927. The youngest of four children, he attended country schools and graduated from Spencer High School in 1946. While farming was the career choice of his grandfather, as well as his father, brother, and many of his classmates, he knew early on farming was not for him. He's been quoted as saying, "There has to be an easier way to make a living." Instead, he put his energies into sales; first for a car dealership in Spencer, IA and then continuing with sales positions at J.I. Case, Minneapolis Moline, Brady Manufacturing and Long Manufacturing Company.

In 1948, he married his high school sweetheart, Shirley Borchard, and she joined him on the wild ride that would take the family to a number of different towns in Iowa and finally to South Dakota in 1970. The Thomsen's would have celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary next month.

His first job after relocating to South Dakota was General Manager at Dakota Manufacturing. Five years later, Thomsen started Western Ag-Sales. The offices were initially located in the Thomsen's modest home. The business consisted of four people, including Gordon and his wife. It wasn't long before the business became too big and renovation began on the corner of 1st and Sanborn in an old gas station. Trailers had become the company's main product, and in 1977 - due in part to a friendly banker and the Small Business Administration - the Trail King of today began to take shape.

Gordon has always credited other people for his success, but that wouldn't have become a reality without Thomsen's organizational skills and positive attitude. Whether it was advancing a cause, fundraising for a non-profit group, or enhancing our community's economic base by starting a new business in town, he put his talents, time, and money into it.

Gordon and Shirley have generously supported a number of groups in Mitchell. The Thomsen Center Archeodome at the Prehistoric Indian Village is a great testament to their commitment of giving back to the Mitchell community. Other projects influenced by the Thomsen's include the Abbott House and the Mitchell Adjustment Training Center. Gordon and Shirley poured themselves into many projects, but did take the time to spend winters in Tucson, AZ as well as traveling all over the world and spending time with their family.

Current Senator and previous Governor Mike Rounds expressed his sympathy in a message to the family by saying, "Please accept my condolences on the loss of your dad. Gordy was a great promoter of his hometown of Mitchell as well as the great state of South Dakota. We could always count on his support and leadership when it came to making the community or the state a better place for the next generation. I am pleased to call him my friend and he will be missed."

Some of Gordon's accomplishments included: SBA Small Business Person of the year in 1980 and again in 1990, SBA's Exporter of the Year in 1994 for his work with the SD Export Council, honored as South Dakotan of the year by the USD School of Business in 1986, Community Service Award in 1998 by Mitchell Chamber of Commerce, Chairman of TTMA (Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association) and The Lifetime Achievement Award from Specialized Carriers and Rigger Association.

As his fishing buddy and lifelong friend of over 50 years, Don Johnson said; "He has come a long way from having nothing to being the President and CEO of his own company, but he's always shared his successes with his family, his employees, and his community. He cared deeply for his family, his town, and his state. He not only talked about making things better, he went into action to make it so."

Grateful for having shared his life are his wife, Shirley (Borchard), and his children: Jackie Morrison (Don Lura) of Mitchell; Suzanne Thomsen of Tucson, AZ; Bill Thomsen (Julie Fliegel) of Del Mar, CA; Jerry Thomsen (Pam Thomsen) of Mitchell and Jenny Trom of Columbia, MO. He is also survived by 12 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.