Harlan L. Thurn

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Harlan Lloyd Thurn, 85, of St. Olaf, passed away on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, at MercyOne Elkader Medical Center following a short illness with cancer. He was born on May 10, 1937, to Harlan James and Arleen Mae (Nelson) Thurn on his maternal grandparents’ farm home near Elkader. He was baptized at the Little Brown Church in Elkader and confirmed at the Hope Lutheran Church, Littleport.


Harlan, often referred to as “Junior” by family and friends, grew up on the family farm next to Honey Creek in Littleport. His favorite memory of his days in Littleport was the ice skating rink where he spent time perfecting his hockey and skating skills. He attended school through 11th grade in Littleport, and because of consolidation of schools, Harlan spent his senior year at Elkader High School. There, he was a member of the track team and the baseball team, graduating in 1954. 


On March 25, 1956, he was united in marriage to Phyllis Joan Engelhardt at the Norway Lutheran Church in St. Olaf. They were blessed with four children. The couple spent their first four years in Rockford, Ill., where Harlan was employed by the city of Rockford. In 1964, following a short time on the family farm in Littleport, Harlan and Phyllis moved to St. Olaf, residing on their current acreage and enjoying their Norwegian heritage among family and friends. Harlan loved his horses and cattle. After retiring from milking cows, his hobby was raising goats for all passers-by to enjoy. Harlan worked for the Clayton County Engineer’s Office for 53 years, where he met and still enjoyed lifelong friendships.  


Harlan’s love of horses took him to trail rides, rodeos and to care for his beautiful horse, “Lady.” He also found time for gardening, mushroom hunting, listening to classic country music and all things sports related. He played softball into his 40s, was an avid athlete and passed his love of sports onto his children and grandchildren. Harlan and Phyllis traveled to watch them in their athletic competitions. Harlan enjoyed a good game of euchre, lottery scratch tickets, driving his green Gator and his unique gift of $2 bills to his grandchildren. His most special memories were spending time with his family.  


Harlan served his community with 12 years of service on the Central Elkader School Board and was a long-time member of the Norway Lutheran Church, serving on the cemetery board.  


He is survived by his wife, Phyllis; his children, Brad (Gayle) Thurn of Piedmont, S.C., LuAnn VanKirk of West Des Moines, Marcie (Jerry) Rohach of Grimes and Beth (Russ) Kramer of Grimes; 12 grandchildren, Jeff (Paige) Thurn, James (Jenna) Thurn, Ryan (Sarah) Thurn, Christin VanKirk, Lauren (Garret) Alt, Brody (Danielle) Rohach, Grant (Caylee Shank) Rohach, Jared (Maddy) Kramer, Andrew (Claire Eggleston) Kramer, Brooke (Austin Barnes) Kramer, Tiffany Hurd and Brandon Hughes; five great-grandchildren, Beckham, Mauer and Griffey Thurn and Harper and Ryleigh Thurn; brother Gary (Nancy) Thurn of Prairie du Chien, Wis., sister Marlene Thurn of Cedar Rapids, sister-in-law Joyce (Dave) Caldwell of Fort Dodge and  brother-in-law James (Patricia) Engelhardt of Wauwatosa, Wis.; and many nieces and nephews.   


Harlan was preceded in death by his parents; two brothers, Bradley Thurn and William Thurn; and brother-in-law Duane and wife Norma Engelhardt.  


Visitation was March 2, at Norway Lutheran Church, rural St. Olaf. Funeral service was March 3, also at Norway Lutheran Church, rural St. Olaf, with Rev. Marshall Hahn officiating.


Interment was at Norway Lutheran Cemetery, rural St. Olaf.


Memorials may be directed to Norway Lutheran Cemetery, St. Olaf; Union Cemetery, Littleport; or Gundersen Palmer Hospice, West Union.


Leonard-Grau Funeral Home and Cremation Service of Elkader is assisting the family.

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