Tom Tobin, 74, of Winner, SD passed away on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019.
Memorial service was held on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. at the Winner United Methodist Church in Winner, SD. Private family burial will be held at a later date.
Visitation was held one hour prior to memorial service on Friday. In lieu of flowers the family asks that persons consider a donation to the South Dakota Historical Society.
Tommy Drake Tobin was born on Nov. 8th, 1945 in Norman, Okla., to Milton and Era (Moran) Tobin. The family moved to Chicago for Milton’s optometry education after WWII. When Era became ill with Polio, Tom was sent to live with his grandparents for a time on their farm outside of Ethan, South Dakota.
Upon Milton’s graduation, the family settled in Winner, South Dakota where Dr. Tobin started his practice. They made Winner their lifelong home with their two sons, Tom and Gregg.
Growing up, Tom spent a significant amount of time hunting and fishing. This was an interest instilled in him by his father at an early age.
Tom was an excellent trumpet player. He played in the high school band and a traveling jazz band. He also played taps at many funeral services in the local area. Tom was always up for a good time growing up. He had many great friends and teachers that shaped his life, none more than his father “Doc” Tobin. Tom graduated from Winner High School in 1963.
He attended the University of South Dakota, where he joined Delta Tau Delta fraternity and met many of his lifelong friends. During college, Tom developed a love of travel which continued throughout his life. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1968 and a Master of Arts degree in 1970. He was accepted to medical school but instead decided to pursue a degree in law. He earned his Juris Doctorate in 1973 from the University of South Dakota.
During graduate school, he met the love of his life, Judy Larsgaard. They married on Nov. 28, 1970 and moved to Winner upon Tom’s graduation from law school.
Tom and Judy had five children and raised them in Winner, where Tom started his law practice.
Through his creativity, tenacity and hours upon hours of legal research, Tom became a renowned, respected and sought-after expert on Federal-Tribal Treaty law and was called on by states and counties throughout the nation that faced State-Indian jurisdiction issues. This practice took him all over the country, and often he and the family drove thousands of miles to meetings and conferences.
Highlights in his legal career included arguing two cases before the United States Supreme Court, something unheard of from a private attorney in the state. The results of those cases left a lasting impact on the jurisdictional map of South Dakota. Cases of significance were DeCoteau v. District Court and Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Kneip.
These cases involved the reservation status of Roberts, Gregory, Tripp, and Mellette Counties in South Dakota. Subsequently, he was involved in Solem v. Bartlett involving the boundaries of the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Indian Reservations in South Dakota, Cook v. Parkinson, involving the reservation status of Bennett County, and many other jurisdiction cases in South Dakota and across the western United States. He advised governors and attorneys general from various states on the intricacies of Indian law.
As a young, inexperienced attorney, the US Supreme Court’s Chief Clerk Michael Rodak II, mentored Tom on the workings of the court and became a close friend.
Tom served as Tripp County State’s Attorney, on various committees of the State Bar Association and national boards.
Tom was a lifelong member of the Republican party, held various positions in the local Republican party and was a notoriously poor loser when his candidate failed to win. Despite often being on the opposite side from tribes in his cases, Tom had many great Native American friends, and he was known and respected in the Tribal Courts of South Dakota. Tom continued practicing in this area of the law and in a private practice until his death.
Tom had a great curiosity and interest in history, especially all things related to South Dakota. To date, he was the longest standing member of the South Dakota State Historical Society Board. He was very proud to be involved with the state’s centennial, pawning his kids to advertise the custom bandanas he helped to create for the event.
He was also a proud member of the Western South Dakota Buckaroos, a club his son Tyler was later able to join him in. Tom led the effort to help the Buckaroos preserve the history of “The Round Up of 1902” by republishing the book Roundup Years, which collected the stories of the cowboys on that round up, said to be the largest in history.
Tom loved Tripp County and took his children hunting and fishing as soon as they could walk. It was not uncommon to halt a pheasant hunt in order to find one of his kids that were lost in a cornfield. The annual deer hunts in the White River hills were full of exhilarating Jeep chases, chili camp outs, and memorable mishaps with friends and their children.
His best friends and acquaintances from across the United States looked forward to the annual “Tobin Pheasant Hunt” because each one resulted in a memory more remarkable than the last. Highlights of this annual tradition were Judy’s spaghetti dinner, fine spirits, the Saturday night steak fry, poker games lasting until early morning hours, the political battles with his few, good Democrat friends and the bacon sandwiches for the fields.
The most important Tobin tradition was riding horses and wagons in the annual Winner Labor Parade. It was always a crazy, stressful event but Tom wouldn’t have it any other way. He prided himself on continuing this four-generation tradition started by his father.
Good or bad, from a young age Tom was always a gambling man. Whether it was a good poker game with friends, last minute trips to the horse races in Omaha, making racehorse purchases as an adult or placing the family Triple Crown race bets, he loved it all. He was a horse racing super fan, especially of the Triple Crown Races. A highlight for him was seeing the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 at the 2015 Belmont Stakes in New York with his daughter Tara.
Tom was a gentleman rancher and loved spending his spare time working with cows and horses. Until recent years, he annually swam across the Missouri River at the Platte/Winner Bridge, with his son Justin always by his side. After much persuasion, he gave up that tradition for daily walks through his pastures to the highest hill. Day or night, he rarely missed his walk.
After the passing of Judy in 2016, from which he never truly recovered, Tom found his faith and was baptized in 2016. His “ministry” was passing out Jesus Calling books to friends, strangers, and fellow travelers around the world. He had many amazing vacations with new friends in the last years of his life.
Tom was a collector of historical artifacts and antiques, in fact, he was a collector of all things he could find on a “good sale”, regardless of need. He often referred to himself as “a shopper, not a seller”. He loved cleaning his saddles, boots and refinishing furniture, a hobby he instilled in his youngest son, Travis. He was very proud of his beloved sterling silverware set and his rare and exotic skinned cowboy boot collection, the latter of which was shared and built with his eldest son, Brian.
Tom was a major fan of the Mayo Clinic. He insisted on referring friends and strangers alike, even personally driving several people to Rochester for tests or treatment.
Tom’s favorite phrases were “I’m the boss”, “In any event” and “Do you understand what I am saying?” He rarely took “no” for an answer, especially when he wanted to challenge you to a game of chess. He was a relentless arguer. He was a hard worker, a voracious reader, an insatiable learner and a generous soul.
Tom was a world traveler, including several alleged trips to Cuba. Most of all, he loved and was devoted to his family. His grandchildren were the lights of his life. He had a big heart, would help anyone in need and was a genuine, good friend. His family, his home state, and his case work were his pride and joy. From new acquaintances to taxi-cab drivers, he would pass out his business card and offer his home for them to come and stay with him for a hunt or visit to South Dakota.
To the end, Tom would frequently comment on the blessed life that he had lived. He said he “was in the right place at the right time in law school to begin his Indian law career”. He survived his early years of drinking, smoking, chewing Red Man, followed by his ten cardiac stents and his high blood pressure rants and yet, he said “I wake up every morning with no pain and at 74 years old I still am able to walk up on that beautiful hill through mud and tall weeds and say my prayers. I’ve been so blessed.”
Tom is preceded in death by his parents Dr. Milton and Era Tobin, his brother Dr. Gregg Tobin, his wife Judy and many of his very best friends. He is survived by his sons Brian (wife Christine, children Christian, Victoria, Sophia, Gabriella and Samuel), Justin, Tyler (wife Dannette, children Ava and Charles), Travis (wife Erin, children Augustus and Anna), daughter Tara Arnold (husband Ryan, children Amelia, Scarlett and Eleanor) and many extended family members and dear friends. Tommy will be greatly missed.