Howard Pihlaja, age 91

Howard Pihlaja


Howard Pihlaja, age 91, Philip, S.D., died on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, at the Hans P. Peterson Memorial Hospital in Philip.
Howard N. Pihlaja was born Oct. 17, 1924, in Grand Rapids, Minn., to Jack and Ina (Niska) Pihlaja. He was raised in Squaw Lake, Minn., the fourth of 12 children in the family which consisted of six boys, Hans, Howard, Robert, Arnold, Arlan and Mike, and six girls, Lila, Miriam, Aune, Delia, Helen and Shirley. As a child of six or seven, one of Howard’s tasks was skinning bullheads. As an adolescent he held a job where, with the help of his uniquely blacksmith skinning pincher, he was able to skin 2,000 pounds of bullheads in a 12-hour day.
Howard left home in 1939 at the age of 15 to drive trucks and to work in the construction and timber industries. In 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. During his period of service, he went through five major campaigns beginning June 6, 1944, with the invasion of Normandy and continued through battles in Northern France, the Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe. His duties included serving in the combat infantry and eventually light truck driving. He ended his period of service on Nov. 24, 1945, with a T5 grade rating.
Upon release from the service, one of his projects was gifting his father with a 1946 Pontiac. Then he and a group of friends went looking for work and found it timbering high trees in Sand Point, Idaho. Eventually, he moved to Montana and worked on Hungry Horse Dam in the saw mill where he was solely responsible for handling and sharpening the 72-inch circular saw. Howard developed amazing upper body strength because of his jobs, and enjoyed putting a catalog under his elbow so that he was not at a disadvantage with his short stature, and vanquishing all comers as they tried to wrestle his arm down.
He returned to Minnesota and married Rose Marie Alby. Howard and Rosie were married for 13 years and had one son, Scott. Howard worked for Hodgeman and Sons from Fairmont, Minn., for nine years doing road construction during that time. He followed his two brothers, Bobby and Arnold, to Alaska where he worked in a coal mine for one year and for three years he worked for Peter Kiewiet. That job led him to Philip where he continued with PK and worked on missile sites. 
When the missile sites were completed he worked for Don Burns for three years and then moved over to Chevrolet for a few months. Making stock racks for Chevrolet led to his employment at Scotchman Industries. His work there, bending square tubing, led to his 27-year occupation as welder and mechanic at Philip Livestock Auction where he did many things, among them making circular hay feeders with the help of a machine he invented to roll sucker rod into loops for the feeders. 
One of his most interesting jobs was making a tree planter for Jerry Roseth. With the new planter he designed he was able to compress three weeks of work planting trees into three days. Howard had an uncanny ability to gauge perspective, understand physics, and mechanics and see what needed to be done. He was passionately interested in all aspects of surveying, pumps, hydraulics, cranes, transmissions, motors, construction and tools. His great joy was perceiving a problem in a situation or piece of equipment which demanded a “fix.” Even better, was the notion of a complete transformation into something new that worked better than the original plan, idea or mechanical piece.
Howard married Jean Burns when he came to Philip. They were married for 13 years, and he then married Arlene Talley and lived in Sturgis for 13 years where he worked as a machinist and drove his own truck.
Upon his return to Philip in 1993, he went right back to work for Philip Livestock Auction. He also worked on his own as a cat and grader blade operator. His hobbies included fishing and big game hunting. One of his great joys in later life was taking the Honor Flight to see the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. It inspired him to host a pancake breakfast at the American Legion which was generously attended by the people of Philip. $3,600 was raised to send other veterans on an Honor Flight.
Howard founded and funded “Swim for Life.” This is a project which, to date, has offered free swimming lessons and passes to many children in this community.
Howard was preceded in death by his parents and all of his brothers and sisters except Helen, Shirley and Mike.
Howard will be missed greatly by members of his family and friends. He is loved and mourned by his son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Mary Jo Pihlaja and their children, Beau and Charity Pihlaja and their children, Asher and Cressida; Stephen and Yoko Pihlaja and their children, Naomi, Mei and Mia; and Miranda and Allan Straub and their children, Emmy and Linus. In addition, Jean Burns’ children and grandchildren are especially appreciative of all that Howard brought to their lives.
Visitation will be held from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at the Rush Funeral Home in Philip.
Services will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at the American Legion in Philip, with Pastor Harold Delbridge officiating.
Interment with military honors will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 17, at the Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis.
A memorial is established to Swim For Life and may be directed to P.O. Box 910, Philip, SD  57567.
Arrangements are with Rush Funeral Home of Philip.

The Pioneer Review

221 E. Oak Street
Philip, SD 57567
Telephone: (605) 859-2516
E Mail:

Sign Up For Breaking News

Stay informed on our latest news!

Manage my subscriptions

Subscribe to Newsletter feed
Comment Here