After more than 90 remarkable years, Albert Thomas Kersich left us for eternity in the early hours of March 31, 2020. Albert (“A.T.” or “Al,” as he preferred) was born on Sept. 21, 1929, in Detroit, to John and Veronica Kersich. After spending his early years in Detroit, the family moved to Red Lodge.
Growing up in Red Lodge brought many opportunities to spend time fishing and hunting with family and friends in the Beartooth Mountains. This created Al’s lifelong love for the wilderness. Rare was a lake or area that he hadn’t fished or hunted during some point during his life. Those who were lucky enough to spend time with him in the Beartooths, or listen to one of his thousands of stories about his adventures, will never forget them.
After graduating from Red Lodge High School in 1947, Al left Red Lodge to attend college at the University of Detroit in Michigan. He never returned to permanently live in Red Lodge, however Red Lodge never left his heart. After graduation from U of D, two years as linebacker for the Detroit Lions, and service in the U. S. Army during the Korean War, he moved to Billings and spent many of his weekends at the family home in Red Lodge. Later in life, Al served as Red Lodge city engineer. He was a committed box seat ticket holder to the 3-day Red Lodge 4th of July Rodeo (even when health would no longer allow him to attend); and he donated thousands of books to the Red Lodge library.
In 1951, Al received a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Detroit; from 1951 to 1953 he played for the Detroit Lions; and from 1953 to 1955, he served in the United States Army – Chemical Corp. In 1956, he worked for the Bureau of Reclamation before joining B.F. Hurlbut. This partnership later became Hurlbut & Kersich Consulting Engineers, and finally HKM Associates, where he retired in 1995 as president after 25 years.
Professionally, Al led an impressive and distinguished career as a Civil Engineer. He received many honors and served on numerous engineering committees. In 1993, he received an Honorary Ph.D. in engineering from Montana State University. In 1992 to 1993, he served as President of the Accreditation Board of Engineering Technology (ABET) and in 1981 to 1982, he served as president of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), as well as other numerous capacities for both of these organizations. Al continued to work as a water resource consultant up until the time of his passing. His breadth of knowledge allowed him to provide expertise and guidance for pivotal water rights cases on behalf of numerous Native American Tribes, including but not limited to the Blackfoot, Crow, Apache, Yakima and Nez Perce Nations. One accomplishment Al was especially proud of was walking great stretches of the Colorado River during his research for his expert testimony in the Arizona versus California water rights case.
Al received many honors and awards during his career. These included: In 1967, the Billings Engineers Club Young Engineer of the year; in 1979, the Distinguished Service Award; in 1995, University of Detroit Engineering Alumnus of the Year; in 1992, NCEES Distinguished Service Award with Special Commendation; and in 1998, the ABET Linton E. Grinter Award for Distinguished Service to Engineering Education. The culmination of these honors was in 2019 when he was inducted into the Montana State Professional Engineers Hall of Fame, which was among his most proud.
Al devoted many years of service not only to the advancement of engineering, but to nonprofit organizations as well. He was instrumental in starting Little Guy Football and coached it and Little League Baseball for many years. He was a longstanding member of the Elks for 68 years, having served as Exalted Ruler six times and held positions on numerous committees. He was also a member of the Billings Rotary and American Legion. Al served on, and was president of, the Northern International Livestock Show and Rodeo, for which he was instrumental in bringing the Professional Bull Riding Tour to Billings. He was head of the N.I.L.E. Rodeo committee for over 35 years.
Al was an avid outdoorsman and sports fan, especially college football — and loved checking the current scores and highlights on his iPad. He spent many weekends while his children were growing up, showing them the beautiful mountains within the Beartooth National Forest, heading out to Westport, Washington, in the summer to vacation. Long hikes to lakes to catch fresh trout were not an unusual family outing. There were also weekends in the fall spent hunting for deer and antelope in Southern Montana. In the later years, Al would spend days in Alaska to hunt and fish. He was especially proud of the Dall Sheep he got when he was 66 years old. He relished the times he would spend with his stepson, Bill, at camp near the Arctic Circle hunting caribou, bears and wolves. Al was particularly proud of his culinary skills when he was the camp “chef.” Like the stories of his times in the Beartooths, the opportunity to hear of his other exploits were unforgettable. His kindness, sense of humor and commitment to profession and community will be dearly missed.
Al is survived by his wife of 32 years, JoAnne; children Kathleen Sommerfeld of Red Lodge, Patricia Gilbert of Hood River, Oregon, Timothy Kersich of Salem, Oregon; and stepson William Alex of Omaha, Nebraska. He also has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
JoAnne shared his mutual love for the outdoors and they were able to spend some very memorable times driving up the A1-Can Highway and hunting and fishing in the Alaska wilderness.
Al was preceded in death by his parents, John Sr. and Veronica; sister, Mary; brothers, Joe, John Jr., Nick, Pete and Tom; and his first wife of 27 years, Joan (LaGaly) Kersich.
Private interment will be held at a later date. A celebration of life will be scheduled for later this summer. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to a charity of your choice.