ABERDEEN | Dr. Jerome A. Eckrich Jr., 89, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020.
Dr. Eckrich sprang at life -- never from it. He embraced his faith, family, flight, healing, and the outdoors.
Jerome Andrew "Jerry" Eckrich Jr. was born Oct. 11, 1931, in Aberdeen to Dr. Jerome A. Eckrich Sr. and Catherine (Le Master) Eckrich. Jerry graduated from Aberdeen Central High School, then attended Bates College in Maine, eventually returning west to attend and graduate with honors from the University of Minnesota, Duluth.
UMD was not a random choice. Nearby lies Lake Vermilion, home to his parent's summer cabin and life-long spark for his spirit of adventure. As a youth, and later as a husband and father, Jerry guided canoe trips throughout the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park, taught sailing, and sailed Lake Vermilion's 1,100-mile coastline. He flew his seaplane to remote Canadian lakes for fish or fun and explored the lake bottom with 1940s-era scuba gear.
When he returned to UMD, he met a young nurse, Helen Wilson of Eau Claire, WI, on a blind date. And so, another chapter began. Jerry and Helen married in 1954. Three children arrived while Jerry attended Marquette Medical School in Milwaukee. After graduation, he served his tour in the United States Army, tending to soldiers at Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii and in Fort Knox, Kentucky. Three more children arrived. By the time Jerry finished his three-year residency, two additional children joined the family.
In 1963, their eight children in tow, Jerry and Helen moved to Aberdeen, where Dr. Eckrich Jr. began his 55-year urology practice. He doctored thousands of patients, many of whom are now reading this obituary. Dr. Eckrich's professional career included an extensive involvement in organized medicine. His leadership positions included President of the South Dakota Medical Association, President of the South Dakota Chapter of the American College of Surgeons and South Dakota's Representative to the American Medical Association. He served for many years as Chief of Staff and Chief of Surgery at both St. Luke's and Midland Hospitals.
Jerry often said that if he couldn't be a physician, then he would be an airline pilot. He loved to fly. Propelled perhaps to defy gravity, or speed, or the science and satisfaction of navigating to nail a runway in the fog, or the streamlined beauty of an aircraft, Jerry flew thousands of hours in hundreds of planes. He soloed at age 16 and obtained his private pilot's license at age 17. Eventually Jerry obtained seaplane, instrument, commercial, and multi-engine ratings. At age 49, he earned his Air Transport Rating which qualified him to fly commercial airliners.
Dr. Eckrich worked long and hard but he never missed a 6 p.m. supper with his family. He knew the value of play. Jerry was a crack shot, as anyone who has hunted next to him knows all too well. He beat three-time World Skeet Champion Ed Scherer in a 1963 skeet competition. Jerry hit the Grand Slam harvesting all four North American species of wild sheep. The fact is, he loved sport and taught all his kids to love it too. Helen and the kids were his adventure companions and partners. His greatest earthly passion was his family.
Jerry's life story cannot be told unless it includes knowledge of his devotion to his Catholic faith and the fundamental Christian principle of loving your fellow human. Jerry's adventurous spirit, his passion, and his life were possible only because his God infused all he did, all he accomplished, all he was.
Dr. Jerome A. Eckrich Jr. is survived by his wife, Helen; his children: Jerry (Sheila), Vicky (Tom), Paul (Kristi), Steve (Lynn), Jon (Lori), Suzanne (Brian) and Elizabeth (Jeff); his sister, Priscilla Kraft; his brother, David Eckrich; and his daughter-in-law, Mary. Jerry's genetic cascade (so far) consists of 30 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his son, Karl.
Open visitation will be from 5-6:30 p.m. (CST) on Sunday, Jan. 3, at Schriver's Memorial Mortuary, with a liturgical wake service and time of sharing to commence at 6:30 p.m. A rosary will follow. Visitation continues one hour prior to Mass at the church on Monday.
Mass of Christian Burial will be 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 4, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 409 3rd Ave. SE, Aberdeen, with Father David Krogman, Celebrant, and Father Andrew Dickinson and Father Brian Eckrich co-celebrating.
A luncheon and time of fellowship will immediately follow the Mass at the church fellowship hall.
Dr. Eckrich was a healer. His family respectfully requests that all those attending his services and luncheon wear masks and practice social distancing as the circumstances allow.
Private burial, with military rites, will take place at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Aberdeen.
Jerry's family requests memorials to the Aberdeen Catholic Foundation-Roncalli Teacher's Endowment, 13 2nd Avenue SE, Suite 6, Aberdeen, SD 57401.
Family and friends may sign Jerome's online guestbook and also view his service at www.schriversmemorial.com.