Roger James Sorensen, 77
Roger James Sorensen – a follower of Jesus Christ and devoted husband, son, brother, dad, papa, great grandpapa and friend, went home to be with his Savior on July 28, 2023 at the age of 77.
Roger was born June 17, 1946 in Atlantic, Iowa to Merlin and Ethel Sorensen. He spent much of his younger years playing and working around the family farms operated by his grandfather Jens Sorensen, Dad, and uncles, Donald, Verdon and Ethan, near Elk Horn and Walnut. It was from this time that he learned from Jens and quoted throughout his days – “Life is what we make it boys.” He graduated from Walnut High School in 1964 – where he played football, trumpet and was involved in the Future Farmers of America.
In these younger years, Roger received Christ as his Savior. His Faith grew throughout his life and was not just something he did on Sundays – it was a daily walk of prayer, reading/studying scripture and living out the words of Jesus (Matthew 22:37-40) through business and family interactions as well as every component of his life. The Bible he used for the last 30 years of his life was well worn, marked and stuffed with notes from his studies and sermons he had heard.
Following high school, Roger worked for a year – operating heavy construction equipment in a quarry near Logan and on a team involved in the construction of Interstate 80. A large portion of this time was spent on the construction of the Marne exit (51) of Interstate 80. It was during this time that Roger met his wife Bev (Hanson) at the skating rink in Atlantic, Iowa and the couple started dating. The couple actually broke up for a few weeks, before a sudden, and never explained, change of heart lead Roger to reconsider his unfortunate decision.
In the Fall of 1965, Roger moved to Estherville, Iowa where he attended Estherville Community College. Roger and Bev continued to date with Bev spending a great deal of time on the road between Harlan and Estherville. Roger proposed marriage to Bev during his first year of college and the two were married on May 28, 1966 at Bethel Baptist Church in Harlan. The couple spent the first year of marriage in Estherville as Roger finished his studies and graduated with his Associates Degree in the Spring of 1967.
Following graduation, Roger and Bev moved to Atlantic, where Roger worked in Auto Sales for some period before he was hired by Gulf Oil Corporation in a “troubleshooting” role. The couple’s first son, Todd was born during this time. Shortly thereafter the couple moved to Ames, where they owned/operated the new Gulf gas station near Interstate 35 in Ames. Corey was born in 1971 while the couple lived in Ames.
Roger then purchased Haase Oil Company (3 gas stations and tank-wagon business) from Chet Haase and moved back to Harlan in December 1971. This chapter in Roger and Bev’s lives saw the births of the couples’ son Barry in 1975 and daughter Tammy in 1976. In 1976, Roger applied, and was awarded, the Ford tractor dealership in Harlan, realizing a life-long dream of operating a farm equipment dealership. They took delivery of a handful of tractors while still operating the stations and tank-wagon business as they waited for the completion of the building on Highway 59.
Sorensen Ford Equipment grew substantially over the years, winning several awards and competitions for volumes and sales – particularly for large tractors. In 1982, Roger added Kinze to the brands represented at Sorensen Ford, leading to a change in the name to Sorensen Equipment.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Roger took an interest in “tractor pulling” – experiencing significant success all across Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska with the tractor he handled as “the Blue Mule.” On more than one occasion, a successful night involved a quick exit out of town as the local crowd wasn’t so happy with the outsider coming to town and stealing the show with the “little blue tractor.” One of the steady crew members from that time, Bill Darrington, recalled a night in Eastern Nebraska in which Roger won his 3rd weight class of the evening. Sensing the reaction, he unhooked from the Sled, drove the tractor right on to the trailer, raised the tailgate and drove off without fully securing the tractor. Many memories will remain of late nights in the sometimes under-powered semi – with one of the kids (or maybe even 2) under his right shoulder straddling the gear shift and another of the crew in the passenger seat.
By the early 1990s tractor pulling gave way to racing as both Corey and Barry joined him in the business and had an interest in racing. Roger himself was a big fan of racing, even racing go-karts in the 1970s at the track south of town on the farm of the Don Hopp. His interest in racing also included many trips with Ron Jensen, other friends, and his kids and family to Daytona for Speedweeks. Ron and Roger bought and showed a replica of the Wood Brothers #21 Car in which Harlan native Tiny Lund won the 1963 Daytona 500.
While Roger enjoyed watching a good race, his interest in racing was amplified by the racing careers of Corey and Barry and the event became a family affair. Roger was always there in support, donating equipment and spending countless hours and nights helping to prepare the track in Harlan. His support of racing and racers didn’t end with his sons, however, as other competitors also speak of the encouraging words that Roger offered to them.
During this time, Sorensen Equipment continued to experience incredible growth. Kinze eventually became the business’ primary brand and Sorensen Equipment became, and remains, the largest Kinze dealer in North America.
Roger was certainly skilled in the “art of the deal,” but was more importantly known for his genuine care for family, friends, employees and customers. He was willing to meet customers at the shop, in the field, or somewhere in between – often driving hours to get a customer or family member what they needed. This caring attitude was infectious and not only part of the culture of the business but an integral component of his relationships with family and friends. It was simply the way he operated.
Roger was preceded in death by his parents, Merlin and Ethel Sorensen. He is survived by his wife, Bev Sorensen of Harlan, Iowa; children, Todd (Rachelle) Sorensen of Brentwood, TN, Corey (Michelle) Sorensen of Harlan, IA, Barry (Emily) Sorensen of Harlan, IA, and Tammy (Eric) Shaw of Omaha, NE; 11 grandchildren (Tyler, Macie (Luke Ferguson), Tosha, Annika (Jake Wood), Christian (Hannah), Asta, Camela, Jorgen, Hoyt, Hagen and McCoy); 2 great-grandchildren + 1 on the way (Henry, Elowynn, ?); brother, Richard (Linda) Sorensen of Council Bluffs, IA; many other family members and friends.
A 1:00 PM Funeral Service was officiated by Pastor Joshua Salazar on Wednesday, August 2, 2023 at First Baptist Church in Harlan, Iowa. Tyler Davis, Christian Sorensen, Jorgen Sorensen, Hoyt Sorensen, Hagen Sorensen, McCoy Sorensen, Luke Ferguson, and Jake Wood served as casketbearers. Macie Ferguson, Tosha Davis, Annika Sorensen, Asta Sorensen, Camela Sorensen, and Hannah Sorensen served as honorary casket bearers. A burial was held following the service at Pleasant Ridge Cemetery outside of Harlan, Iowa.
Pauley Jones Funeral Home was in charge of the arrangements.