Calvin ‘Kelly’ Brookman, of Brookman Motors, Lake Elmo
Calvin “Kelly” Brookman had a simple rule when it came to selling cars, trucks and tractors — the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would want to be treated.
Brookman, the longtime owner of Brookman Motors in Lake Elmo, died Jan. 3 of complications related to dementia at The Lodge at The Lakes at Stillwater. He was 95.
“He was the most selfless person I ever knew,” said his eldest son, John Brookman, of Mooresville, N.C. “He was always doing things for others. He was always fair. He was always a good guy – probably to his own detriment. A lot of car dealers were millionaires, and he never was. He treated people right, and they came back, and they kept him in business.”
Kelly Brookman grew up in Bayport. His father, Martin Brookman, bought the Chrysler DeSoto International Harvester dealership in Lake Elmo in 1932 and renamed it Brookman Motor Sales. The family moved to Lake Elmo in 1941.
Kelly Brookman graduated from Stillwater High School in 1945. He played football for legendary coach Phil Belfiori and was on the undefeated 1943 Suburban Conference championship team that finished with seven wins and no losses. The Ponies scored 195 points while giving up only 13 that season, said his son, Archie Brookman, who lives in Oak Park Heights.
“He played on the offensive line, most of the time at guard,” Archie Brookman said. “He was one of two underclassmen recognized for outstanding play that season.”
Brookman, who was awarded a Stillwater Area High School Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015, graduated on May 31, 1945, just after World War II ended in Europe.
“I graduated on Thursday night, and I left for the Navy on Saturday morning,” he told the Pioneer Press in 2015.
Brookman studied to be an aviation radio signalman for the Navy, learning Morse code, but later became a yeoman at the Naval Air Station in Minneapolis, helping to process sailors leaving the Navy. “They found out he could type, so they kept him in longer, so he could type up all those papers,” Archie Brookman said.
After his discharge in September 1946, Brookman tried to go to college, but the slots were filled with fellow soldiers returning to school, John Brookman said. Kelly Brookman went to work for his father at the car and farm equipment dealership. He and his brother, Dale, took over the business in 1961. After Dale Brookman died in 1975, Kelly Brookman took in a new partner, Donald Shoemaker, in 1976, Archie Brookman said.
His father continued working until he sold the dealership to Mark Schaffer in 1993, he said.
“He liked running the business,” John Brookman said. “My grandpa always said, ‘If you treat people fair and take care of them, people will keep coming back. They’ll stay your customers and help you stay in business.’ Dad lived by that advice.”
Jeff Kiekhoefer, of New Richmond, Wis., was hired by Kelly Brookman to be a mechanic at the dealership in 1977. The dealership later became Lake Elmo Chrysler.
“He was the greatest boss in the world,” said Kiekhoefer, who worked at the dealership until 2021, when it was sold to Fury Motors and left Lake Elmo. “He was the most honest guy. He was down to earth. He treated all of his employees as if they were family – we were his family. He didn’t care if you wore a suit, or if you wore bib overalls, if you were a farmer, or if you were a lawyer – he treated everyone the same.”
Kelly Brookman was active in Village of Lake Elmo politics, serving on the village council from 1962 until 1967. He was appointed mayor in May 1967 after the resignation of Mayor Lawrence Catlin, and served in that position until 1974.
“He helped oversee the transition of the village when it merged with East Oakdale Township to become the City of Lake Elmo,” Archie Brookman said. “He was proud of his public service and always tried to help all the residents of the town.”
He also was a member of the Minnesota Metropolitan Waste Control Commission, a charter member and president of the Lake Elmo Lions Club and a 76-year member of Bayport American Legion Post 491. He also served on the boards of Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater and Lake Elmo Bank.
“He was part of that ‘Greatest Generation,’” Archie Brookman said. “He was very much interested in giving back to the community and to the area.”
On June 25, 1949, Kelly Brookman married his high school sweetheart, Ruth Barnholdt, at the Church of St. Charles in Bayport. The couple, who celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in June, had four children. They moved to Stillwater in 2012.
“We feel like we lived in the greatest time there ever was,” Brookman told the Pioneer Press in 2015. “We started out in the Depression, and we went through wars, and we had good lives afterward, so we’re all very happy that we lived when we lived.”
Calvin “Kelly” Brookman – named for President Calvin Coolidge – hated his first name, John Brookman said. His dad got the nickname “Kelly” — almost everyone in Bayport had a nickname — when he was a bat boy for the car dealership’s baseball team, he said.
“Grandpa Martin sponsored the team, and one of the sponsorships that he sold was to Kelly Tires,” he said. “On the front of (my dad’s) team sweater, it said ‘Kelly,’ and so he became Kelly.”
Kelly Brookman was preceded in death by his daughter, Kelly Ann Fayerweather. He is survived by his wife, Ruth; sons John, Archie and Michael; six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian burial will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the Church of St. Charles in Bayport, with visitation one hour prior to the service. Burial will be at St. Michael’s Catholic Cemetery in Bayport.
Simonet Funeral Home in Stillwater is handling arrangements.