Marlin Engelhardt was a man of strength in many ways, who thrived on overcoming adversity and used his perceived shortcoming to speak wisdom in the lives of others.
A missing arm is a defining physical characteristic, but Engelhardt was truly defined by the fact the absence of his arm didn’t prevent him from living the way he wanted.
Engelhardt grew up in the tiny village of Saronville, Neb., helping care for cattle and pigs and grow corn and hay on the family farm. It was there in the fields that his life was changed forever, when he fell into a hay chopper, an accident the doctor said should have killed him.
He lost his arm and sustained serious injuries to his chest and face, but a neighbor who was a registered nurse put a tourniquet on his arm and rushed him the 30 miles to the nearest hospital. Another neighbor called the state patrol and told them not to stop the car.
“He had lost so much blood, he was almost gone. There was an excellent surgeon on call,” Engelhardt’s sister Dee Erlander said Friday. “(The doctor) didn’t think Marlin was going to live.”
“He met the Lord right there. He said he had been selfish until then, but that was when it turned around,” his wife Eulalea “Lea” Ellington said.
In a June 7, 1989 question-and-answer feature in The Walton Tribune, Engelhardt said he had to overcome many obstacles including how to walk again.
“Losing the arm made my balance different. I’d run into the wall,” he said in the Tribune article. “I left home because the people drove me crazy around home. They’d come by the house, and I don’t know what it was; I guess they just wanted to see if it was as bad as it was or what. I just finally left home, because I couldn’t stand the people.”
Engelhardt was right handed and had lost his right arm, but he didn’t want anybody feeling sorry for him and he was determined not to need anybody else’s help.
“He could do anything anybody else could be besides tie his shoes,” Erlander said. “It was amazing what he did with one arm.”
A skilled athlete, Engelhardt had just graduated high school, was in the prime of life and was looking forward to playing football at the University of Nebraska. That life had collapsed. So he started a new one.
For the next several years, Engelhardt traveled around the country, and even the world, raising, grooming and showing cattle. He worked for Purdue University’s cattle farm as well as the Ralston Purina Company, an animal feed company.
He always loved working with cows, even later in life when he completely switched careers.
In the Tribune article, he said he had passed through Social Circle once and his truck broke down in the town.
He stayed overnight and found the people to be so friendly he decided to live there one day.
Later in life, he bought property outside the area, and eventually went to work for the Leggett and Platt industry making custom mattresses.
He became good at his craft and began taking mattresses that had been messed up in the manufacturing process and rebuilding and reselling them.
Though Lea said Engelhardt always had an assistant around, he did almost all the work himself and he was so strong he could lift a mattress up with one arm.
“It was amazing,” she said.
He worked out of his home, at first remodeling mattresses and then moved into the furniture repair business before combining the two skills to open GKM Furniture in Social Circle, which he owned for more than 30 years.
His family said Engelhardt rarely met a stranger and was a generous, outgoing soul.
“We would go to the restaurant to eat, and I’d think he was behind me, but he would be back there talking to someone,” Lea said. “He’d say, “I don’t know who it was, but they brought furniture from me.’ He could remember faces but not names, but he would stop and talk to anyone.”
“He was a very caring, loving, giving, generous person,” his sister Erlander said. “He was fun to be around; he would always tell jokes.”