RAPID CITY - John D. Samuelsen, 62, died Tuesday, November 29, 2005, at his home from complications of pneumonia. John was born on August 30th, 1943, in Hettinger, North Dakota, to James (Jim) and Shirley Samuelsen. His family lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he went to elementary school and later moved to Richmond, California, where John attended junior high and high school. John moved to Rapid City in the spring of his senior year of high school, but received his diploma from Harry Ells High School in Richmond, California. He continued his education at Black Hills State College and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1967. John married Ruth Duncan on August 24, 1968. To this union was born one son, John C. Samuelsen. During the early years, John worked as an insurance adjuster in Bismarck, North Dakota; general manager of the Lakes Development Building Association in the Black Hills; and as a sales associate for Rushmore Homes. At his father's request, John went to work for the family beer distributorship (Highland Beverage) as an installer of soda dispensing equipment. In 1971, John became a route salesman for the company and later the merchandising manager. In 1973, John and his father became partners in Highland Beverage. During that time, John served as President of the South Dakota Beer Wholesalers, served on the management committee of the Beer Wholesalers of America and was President of the Rocky Mountain Conference of Beer Wholesalers. John became the sole proprietor of Highland Beverage in 1978, and began building the company into one of the state's premier distributorships. Under his leadership, Highland Beverage became the largest supplier of import beer in western South Dakota, and he brought the coveted Coors franchise into the state. John was active in every area of business and helped introduce state and national legislation for the beer industry. In 1974, John and his father built the first mini storage units in the hills, and in 1976, added an industrial business complex on Deadwood Avenue called Samco Plaza (in reference to Samuelsen & Company). On Dec. 31st, 1988, John married Sally Olson in Vail, Colorado, and became the step father to her six year old son, Scott. John and Sally were blessed with two sons, James Lee and Jason Douglas. In 1989 John sold Highland Beverage, but remained active in the community through his many other interests. John was able to indulge his passion for basketball in 1987, when he became part owner of the Rapid City Thrillers. John served as President of the Thrillers for many years and later worked in the office for the organization as their Treasurer. Sally was the Dance Team Manager, and she and John served as coordinators for the CBA All Star team on their tour of France. John was always very involved in the community and served on the Black Hills State University Foundation board, The Mount Rushmore Society marketing committee, the Rapid City Regional Airport board, the board of Youth and Family Services and the national board of the Girls Club of America. John was active in the Chamber of Commerce as a diplomat and served as President of the Terry Peak Homeowners Association for nine years. An avid supporter of the Republican Party, John was given the Abe Lincoln Award for his many contributions to the party. John loved to spend time with the boys and was the equipment manager for Canyon Lake Little League. John was an avid snow skier with effortless form who graced the slopes of Terry Peak and Vail most of his life. He enjoyed sailing, golf, and of course, basketball. He was a proud father who always found time to indulge his boys in their interests or passions. He loved to travel and the family spent a week each summer exploring a new part of the country. In addition, he and Sally were able to travel abroad extensively, and pacify his life-long love of history. John loved people and his quiet, gentle manner appealed to both men and women. He was a man of class and dignity, who never treated anyone as a stranger. He always had a handshake or a hug for the people he greeted and a smile that immediately put others at ease. He was good with names and faces even after his diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's. Although his illness was a life changing disease, John accepted it with courage and grace. He set an example of how to live, and in the end, how to die. He will be sorely missed by all the lives he touched. Grateful for having shared his life are his wife, Sally, and sons, John C. Samuelsen, James Lee Samuelsen, Jason Douglas Samuelsen, and stepson Scott Olson. Survivors also include his sisters Jan and husband Rich Elias of Cannon Falls, Minnesota, and Jaime and husband Dan Kinsella of Bismarck, North Dakota. Visitation with the family present will be from 4 until 7 p.m. today at the Osheim-Catron Funeral Home. Memorial services will be at 1 p.m. on Saturday, December 3, at Calvary Lutheran Church with Rev. Dwight Stensgaard, Rev. Ben Sandin and Rev. Herb Cleveland officiating. Private family services will be held at the graveside prior to the memorial services on Saturday. The family requests that memorials be given to the Calvary Lutheran Music Fund or to Youth and Family Services of Rapid City. Friends may sign his online guestbook and offer condolence wishes here.



Samuelsen remembered by ex-Thrillers officials

By Darrell Shoemaker, Journal Sports Writer

RAPID CITY -- John Samuelsen is being remembered this week in business, community service and sports circles as a quiet man who chose to provide direction and leadership behind the scenes and away from the spotlight.

Samuelsen, who died earlier this week from complications of pneumonia, brought a wealth of experience and community service to the Rapid City Thrillers when the CBA franchise moved from Tampa Bay to Rapid City in the spring of 1987 for the CBA championship.

"Everything John did, he did it with dignity," said Pat Hall, long-time chairman of the board for the Thrillers and who had a personal and business association with Samuelsen for over 40 years, including all eight seasons of the Thrillers' tenure in Rapid City.

"John was really a good friend. He was a fun guy to work with. He worked hard and was always available."

In 1987-88, the Thrillers first full season in Rapid City, Samuelsen became part of the local ownership of the club. He would serve as team president for seven seasons.

Hall and Samuelsen made many of the key decisions involving the team's operation. Hall and coach Eric Musselman were the main public images of the team for most of the team's stay in the community while Samuelsen was always content to work behind the scenes.

"He was the quiet guy in the operation," said Hall. "When we made decisions about running the ball club, we did it together.

"The coaches made the decisions about players. John and I made the business decisions, like the ticket prices, the promotions and the day-to-day operations."

Samuelsen's quiet direction and leadership had a big impact on a young, goal-oriented coach like Musselman, who coached the Thrillers for five years, went on to coach the NBA's Golden State Warriors and serves now as an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA.

"He was a good human being. When there was chaos, John was the voice of reason," Musselman said by telephone Thursday from Memphis. "I looked up to his demeanor. He was always cool, calm and collected."

Musselman was inspired by Samuelsen's professional attitude.

"I was struck by how he carried himself. He always dressed professionally. As you get older, you begin to appreciate that.

"He was a man of high character. I'm fortunate to have been around him."

Samuelsen served on many community boards, including the Black Hills State University Foundation, Mount Rushmore Society, Rapid City Regional Airport, Youth and Family Services and the national Girls Club of America. He also served on the board of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, the Girls Club of Rapid City and the Black Hills Area Scout Council.

At CBA games, Samuelsen provided a towering presence, his height rivaled that of many of the players on the court. His genuine ear-to-ear grin greeted Thrillers fans as well as players from both teams and he could always be seen quietly enjoying the action from his courtside seat. A man of few words, Samuelsen often responded to questions with a brief reply and when his team received high praise for playing a good game, Samuelsen simply nodded in agreement.

John's wife, Sally, also played an integral part of the Thrillers' success in Rapid City, serving as the long time dance team coordinator for the Thriller Girls, a high-energy squad that drew rave reviews as one of the best entertainment groups in the league.

An avid snow skier, Samuelsen also enjoyed golf, sailing and spending time with his sons. He served as the equipment manager for Canyon Lake Little League.

Hall says Samuelsen had a lasting impact on the players and coaches who came to Rapid City. He recalled the reaction of many former Thrillers on the occasion of Samuelsen's 60th birthday.

"John was ailing at the time and both Flip (Saunders) and Eric sent autographed basketballs for John's kids," recalled Hall. "He received contacts from Sidney Lowe and Keith Smart. He had an impact on the team's success but also on the individual players and coaches.

"When Sally called and told me of John's passing, I just stayed home from work, shut the phone off and thought of my friendship with John all day," Hall added.

Musselman said he cried as he prepared a note to the Samuelsen family.

"He was a huge part of the team's success in Rapid City," said Musselman. "The players were close to him. He was one guy, that in my time in Rapid City, he never had an enemy.

"To be respected and liked by everyone, that's a hard thing to do. What a tribute to be liked by everyone in your community."