Eugene John "Gene" Kerkman, 84, passed away at his home in Prescott on Friday, May 8 after a long and brave battle with leukemia. Gene was born in a farmhouse in Antelope County in northeast Nebraska on Nov. 27 (Thanksgiving Day), 1930, to Theodore and Theresa Kerkman. After graduation from Petersburg High School in 1948, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served as an aircraft technician. Gene served on and led many salvage teams based in Westover, Massachusetts and Chteauroux, France, re-enabling crippled aircraft so they could be recovered for overhauling. His team took a new engine to a downed plane in Greenland and installed it in minus 55-degree conditions. He led a salvage team that traveled to Naples, Italy where they constructed one airworthy B-25 from two damaged ones to be returned to Chteauroux for overhaul. After military service, Gene entered the aerospace industry in Los Angeles, California as an assembler, then a lab test technician, working the swing shift. During this time, he completed college. In 1959, he joined AiResearch Manufacturing Company as an Electronics Specialist. He was assigned to support the Italian Air Force in Italy in the early 1960s and moved his family there. They lived in Grosotto, Italy during the Gary Powers U-2 incident and the JFK assassination. Gene returned from Italy to Los Angeles in 1965 and was assigned as AiResearch Site Supervisor at the Lockheed "Skunk Works" for development of subsystems for the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft, the follow-on to the U-2. For 3-1/2 years, Gene headed the AiResearch team working on this top-secret project at Area 51 in Nevada. He attended every test flight of the SR-71. Later Gene was instrumental in developing systems for the General Dynamics F-16 Viper, a phenomenally-successful jet fighter. He was present at the first F-16 flight in 1974. The airplane is still in use today. Besides California and Italy, Gene also had assignments in Texas, Arizona and Germany during his long career with AiResearch, working his way up to Technical Services Director over 125 engineers and other technical people. While in Arizona, he met and married his wife Holly. From 1987 to 1991, Gene and Holly lived in Germany, where Gene was in charge of all AiResearch Customer Service Engineering employees in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. This position required extensive travel throughout the region. Gene and Holly lived in Germany during President Reagan's famous "Tear down this wall" speech and during the subsequent demolition of the wall by East German citizens. When Gene retired in 1992, he and Holly moved to The Mountain Club in Prescott. Gene served for many years as a Commissioner and Chair of the Yavapai County Planning and Zoning Commission, and as a Director and President of the Mountain Club Board of Directors. Gene made his life one of value and service. Gene is survived by his wife Holly; two daughters, Theresa Kerkman of Dallas, Texas and Lisa Landers of Bedford, Texas; son Todd Kerkman of Syracuse, New York; two brothers, Denis Kerkman of Tilden, Nebraska and Kenneth Kerkman of Petersburg, Nebraska; three sisters, Doris Baum of Elgin, Nebraska, Marlene Kluthe of Victorville, California and Lila Winger of Neligh, Nebraska; three grandchildren, Stefanie Tabor, Lia Kerkman and Amanda Kerkman; and two great grandchildren, Breanna Kerkman and Cannon Tabor-Ricks. He was preceded in death by his parents and son Troy Kerkman. A Celebration of Life gathering for Gene will be from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 6, 2015, in the Goldwater Ballroom at the Prescott Resort. For more information, please contact [email protected] In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be sent to Hospice Family Care of Prescott.