The art of the obituary: The outdoorsman

Thomas Craig Pfeifle of Rapid City, the son of two South Dakota judges, died on Monday when he fell while mountain climbing in Montana.

We talk often in this category — The Art of the Obituary — about portraying and defining our lives outside of the jobs we hold. Nineteen year olds don’t have the big jobs that permeate many obituaries. And it didn’t matter a bit in relaying a life well lived. Not a bit.

Thomas Craig Pfeifle, 19, son of Jane and Craig Pfeifle, died August 29, 2016, at Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, WA, following complications from a devastating brain injury suffered in a fall while descending Granite Peak in Montana.

Tom came into the world—on time for the first and only time in his life—with his big heart beating so fast that it presaged the rest of his life. His quick heart kept him in the hospital for a few days, and when his brother and sisters finally got to see him, his brother said, “now we’re a family.” And we were.

​Never content to let being youngest stop him, Tom asserted his strong will from day one. As a five-year-old, he wanted to play with his older siblings and their friends, but his siblings had little patience for his tears. His mother asked him, “do you want to run with the big dogs or sit on the porch and cry?” Tom knew his answer, started to run, and never sat on the porch again. Tom ran and ran, throughout middle school, high school, and into college. He worked hard and ran fast, but he is mostly remembered for his inclusivity. Tom knew that a team cannot succeed without everyone, so he made everyone feel like an integral part of the team. From the star to the newbie, Tom was a friend, a coach, a mentor, and a staunch supporter.

​Tom did not confine himself to one arena. In middle school, he and his friends performed a memorable Justin Bieber song and dance. He carried that musical talent forward. From the viola, to the piano, to the guitar, to the ukulele, to the pipe organ to his voice, Tom was a well-rounded, and sometimes self-taught, musician. He joined orchestra and choir and was a four-year member of All State orchestra and selected for All State choir. He gave memorable performances as Will in Oklahoma! and as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. His vivacity, charm, talent (and arm muscles) were on full display.

​Tom loved the limelight, but he also loved the sunlight. He was an avid outdoorsman. Inspired by a month-long tour of the western United States with his family when he was seven, Tom took every chance he could to hike, run, ski, climb, and camp outside. He spent his free time researching his next adventure. Some of his favorite trips included 2016 spring trips solo through western national parks and Canadian national parks; a five-day backpacking trip with his close friends in Glacier National Park; rock climbing in Washington and South Dakota with his siblings; and summiting some of the highest peaks in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Tom never met a mountain he didn’t want to climb because he believed in living life to its fullest, highest, and best. Tom knew that life was meant to be filled with family, friends, laughter, kindness, and adventures. He packed as much as he could into each day and constantly pursued his passions.

Tom was an outstanding student and writer. He honed his writing skills as a young boy when his siblings tried to bribe him to write their thank you notes. He was curious, well read, articulate, and an engaging companion. Tom was looking forward to his fall semester at Pacific Lutheran University majoring in Geosciences and History, as well as his spring semester in Oxford, England. Tom was our baby precious and a well loved child, sibling and friend.

Tom is survived by his parents, Jane and Craig; his sisters Amanda (Michael) Stroud of Severna Park, MD, and Anne Pfeifle (Seattle, WA); his brother Dan (fiancée Hannah Grimm) of Vermillion, SD, nieces Audrey and Cara Stroud, his grandmothers Betty Pfeifle (Sioux Falls, SD) and Mary Louise Wipf (Wagner, SD), uncles David Wipf (Starkville, MS), James (Kathy) Wipf and David (Lynda)Pfeifle (Sioux Falls,SD), and Thomas Pfeifle (Jachelle), Colorado Springs, CO; and aunts Paige Carda (Jon)(Sioux Falls) and Julie Wipf (Loveland,CO); cousins Grace, David, Nathan (Kelly), Keegan, William, Isabel, Nicholas, Maggie, Quentin, Luke, Tyler, Mark and Kate and his wonderful, wide group of friends. Tom was predeceased by his grandfathers Allen Pfeifle and Owen Wipf, uncle Jon Wipf, and cousin Christian.

In keeping with Tom’s express wishes, Tom was a donor and wished his body to benefit others. If you wish to honor Tom, reduce, reuse, and recycle. Buy from the local thrift store. Camp under the stars. Hike a new trail and invite a new friend. Learn a new skill. Send a postcard.

​Tom was dedicated to the exploration and conservation of America’s wild spaces. In his will, he named his choice of charity to be one “dedicated to the unflinching support of American wilderness west of the Missouri.” If you are so moved, Tom would love it if you honored his life’s passion with a donation. The Wilderness Society and The Wilderness Land Trust are two of our favorite choices.

A Celebration of Life service will be held at Stevens High School Milo Winter Theater on Sunday, September 4, 2016 at 1:30 p.m. Reception to follow at South Canyon Lutheran Church.

(h/t: Amy J. Bilka-Skilbred)