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Paul F. Gnirk

05/16/1937 - 01/29/2024


Obituary For Paul F. Gnirk

Dr. Paul F. Gnirk, 86, passed away peacefully with family by his side on Jan. 29, 2024 at the Hospice House in Rapid City.

Paul was born May 16, 1937 in Burke, SD, the first of four sons born to Fred and Adeline (Graven) Gnirk. He grew up on the family farm outside of Burke that was homesteaded by his grandparents Gustav and Katherine Gnirk. He attended a one room schoolhouse for eight years. His drive to learn came from his parents and grandparents, who recognized the importance of formal education, even though their own was limited.

In October 1949, Paul contracted Polio. With help from a newly developed Polio vaccine and his strong will to overcome any obstacle, Paul recovered after four months and advanced to the eighth grade. Paul made the honor roll every semester thereafter. His extracurricular activities included football, track, editor of the school newspaper and secretary of the Senior class. He graduated from Burke High School in May 1955.

He attended South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in the Fall of 1955 and graduated with honors in the Spring of 1959 with a degree in Mining Engineering. Paul was a member of the SDSM&T wrestling team and was awarded the M letter. He was President of the Drill & Crucible Club and recipient of Kennecott Copper Corp. scholarships.

He married Marilyn Rasmussen of Gregory, SD on August 9, 1957. They had three children, Brian, who died two days after birth, a daughter Erica Lynn, and a son Aaron Russell.

Paul entered Graduate School at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1959, majoring in Rock Mechanics and minoring in Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering. He was the recipient of both US Steel and Reserve Mining Company Fellowships. He was awarded the PhD degree in 1966.

In the Fall of 1963, Paul began his teaching career in the Dept. of Mining Engineering at SDSM&T. He taught undergraduate and graduate courses in rock mechanics. He was appointed as the Director of the fledgling computer center and developed and taught the introductory computer course for Sophomores.

In the Fall of 1965, Paul began as a Research Associate in the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering at Rice University in Houston, Texas. There he developed a rock mechanics laboratory and authored numerous technical publications. During the summers he worked at the Shell Development Company research facility.

Paul returned to Rapid City in 1967 and continued his teaching career in the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering at SDSM&T. In 1969, he received the first Standard Oil Foundation Good Teaching Award for a faculty member in the Division of Engineering at SDSM&T. In 1970, Paul was recognized as an Outstanding Educator of America. The 1971 edition of the SDSM&T student annual was dedicated to Paul. Late 1973, Paul resigned his faculty position and became a full-time employee of RE/SPEC Inc.

In the spring of 1969 while still at SDSM&T, Paul led the start of a company that specialized in scientific and engineering research. RE/SPEC Inc. was incorporated in June 1969 and was awarded their first major contract in 1972. Paul was President of RE/SPEC from 1969-1991 and retired from RE/SPEC in 1993. During his time leading RE/SPEC he was involved in numerous large projects for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, Battelle Memorial Institute, Battelle Northwest Laboratory, and the U. S. Dept of Energy (DOE), as well as for the Atomic Energy of Canada and the Swedish State Power Board. From 1980 to 1992, Paul was one of DOE’s representatives to the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development on the Nuclear Energy Agency’s International Stipa Project in Sweden.

In 1992, Paul created Table Top Ranch Inc. and went on to become a full-time rancher north of New Underwood, raising registered Longhorn cows and black Angus bulls until he was hospitalized in December 2023. While ranching, he also continued to serve SDSM&T and the State of SD, donating his time and expertise to a variety of projects and organizations.

From 1997 to 2000, he served as President of the Alumni of the SDSM&T Chapter of Triangle Fraternity. In 1999, he was the recipient of the Guy E. March Medal Award at the Spring commencement of SDSM&T. In 2000, he was elected to a one year term as President of the SDSM&T Alumni Association. In 2001 he was elected as the Executive Vice President of the Association, a position he held until 2013. On April 3, 2007, Paul was recipient of the Mines Award for Outstanding Public Service.

On April 13, 2007, he was confirmed by the South Dakota Board of Regents as a Professor Emeritus in Mechanical Engineering at SDSM&T.

In September 2006, together with several community leaders, Paul initiated the Viewfield rural water-system project, and continued to participate in the development of the water system to its completion in 2011. The project supplies water from two deep-aquifer wells to some 70 ranches that encompass approximately 250 square miles of land located north of New Underwood, SD.

Paul was appointed to the Board of Water & Natural Resources for South Dakota by Governor Rounds in 2009. He served on this board as their only engineer until he passed away.

In 2018 Paul was inducted into the SDSM&T Hardrocker Hall of Fame. In September 2022 Paul was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame, joining his mother Adeline S. Gnirk, who had been inducted in 1987 for her work authoring nine books on the history of south central South Dakota.

Through his life’s work, leading by example and with love, Paul passed on to his children and grandchildren the importance of higher education, hard work, dedication, perseverance, self-reliance and so much more. We are grateful for his love and influence and will love and remember him forever.

He is survived by his daughter Erica Hokanson (DeWayne), Newcastle, WY, his son Aaron Gnirk (Kansas City, MO), his brother, David (Elaine), Burke, SD, grandchildren Daniel Peterson (Heather), Rapid City, SD, Kristina Paulson (David), Laramie, WY, Alexander Hokanson (Windy), Cheyenne, WY, seven great-grandchildren, several nieces, nephews and cousins and a host of good friends. Paul was preceded in death by an infant son, his parents and grandparents, two brothers and two nephews.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Feb. 24 at 2 pm at the Surbeck Center on the campus of the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City, SD. A livestream of the service will be available at A celebration of life social mixer will follow at the SDSM&T Pearson Alumni & Conference Center. A graveside committal will be held in the spring at Graceland Cemetery in Burke, SD. Memorials can be directed to the SDSM&T Memorial Scholarship Fund in honor of Paul Gnirk. The family will be forever grateful for the fullness of life that God gave Paul. The loss is immeasurable, but so is the love and legacy he left behind.


24 Feb

Funeral Service

02:00 PM

Surbeck Center at the South Dakota School of Mines Campus. Rapid City, SD 57701 Get Directions »
by Obituary Assistant

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  • 02/28/2024

    The world lost a wonderful man! Prayers to his family. - Posted by Lonnie & Teri Arneson on February 15, 2024

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