Family thoughts on Gary Gloege

It’s tricky for any one of us to speak on behalf of the family. We all had different experiences of Gary as a father or a father-in-law or a husband or a grandfather. And people change over time: my experience with my Dad was different from my brothers. Yet in the stories I’ve heard, common threads emerge: themes that say something about who Gary was and what he meant to us all.

First a few facts. Gary was born to Herbert Edward and Mabel Beckley Gloege–the baby of the family with two older sisters. Since Herb was on the road all week as a traveling salesman, weekends were dad-time: sometimes hunting and fishing (which Gary never took to), other times movies, gardening, and hiking (which he did). Herb died on a hunting trip when Gary was 19; that shaped him too.

Our family began a few years later, when Gary met Helen at the Park Avenue Methodist Church. Both also attended the University of Minnesota and Gary somehow kept running into her on the bridge after class. Soon they were dating, and Gary often brought her roses from his garden. 

Helen knew it was serious when Gary agreed to make a trip to North Dakota to meet her Dad and six of her siblings. As she tells it “The closer we drew to our family farm, the more nervous Gary became and the slower he drove. When we arrived, my whole family lined the large kitchen as we made introductions and small talk before letting the poor guy get some much-needed sleep!” They were married the following year and honeymooned on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It was where Gary’s dad had taken him and he did likewise with us most summers.

Gary spent most of his career in the accounting department of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Among other things he managed the Association’s fleet of cars. He loved cars and the open road like his Dad, but he took his family along for the ride: the trip to California was especially memorable. He drove, my mom read books, and we all wept at the ending of Where the Red Fern Grows.

But who was Gary really, beyond the jobs and the trips? When you hear the stories, four themes keep coming up.

First was presence. Gary was a man who showed up, whose presence was welcome, and who wanted everyone in the room to feel that way too. He was not a man of many words. You knew he had faith because you saw him reading his Bible, not because he was preaching on street corners. He never wanted to be the center of attention, but he did want to be in the room. A phone call with Dad lasted two minutes tops, but he’d sit on the other line and listen to you talk to Mom for an hour (unless there was an important Vikings game).

Memories of Dad were mainly memories of doing or just being together. There were evenings doing yard work, and rides in the blue wheelbarrow during clean-up, and family bike rides around Lake Nokomis. There were breakfast outings (with bacon, always crisp), and movie outings, and car rides in comfortable silence.

Gary also noticed who was present. He observed grandkids hovering on the periphery and worked to make them feel a part of the adult activities. He invited co-workers over for family celebrations and made visitors from diverse backgrounds feel welcome.

He also had the presence of mind to face whatever situation we found ourselves. Like that time we got locked in the Woodlake Nature Center and had to scale the fence, or when our brother Dan jumped off a dock as a toddler, or when our minivan lazily spun 360 degrees on an icy Wisconsin highway. He never panicked; he just acted.

A second theme is acceptance. Yes, Dad got frustrated. (I remember hearing his “darn-it’s!” through the ducts when the rec-room project went south and his exasperated “come-on’s!” remain a favorite family joke.) And, yes, Dad struggled with depression later in life–after family members died and especially after he couldn’t drive. 

But he wasn’t a complainer. He didn’t grumble about helping with the early-morning paper route that paid for private school. He didn’t complain when his body stopped cooperating and he needed to move into a nursing home, or when Covid forced him into isolation, or when his Parkinsons eventually left him bed-bound. Even when his son Dan died a few months before he did, there was deep sadness, but no self-pity.

The trials my dad faced could have turned him bitter, but I actually think they made him kinder and more understanding of others. As one of his sons said: “I’ll miss the time we had together after my brother died and he started to be vulnerable and share his feelings about how hard it is to be lonely in a nursing home when you can’t leave your bed. He taught me to sit with him and quietly accept his suffering with him. To let him know he wasn’t alone and was loved.”

A third theme is good humor. Gary was a joker. Even evening Bible stories were read with purposely mispronounced words like “sWoldiers and sW-ooords” to get a rise out of us. He was a connoisseur of “Dad jokes” and when the predictable groans erupted from his teenage sons, you could be sure you’d hear: “like my yokes? Wait until you see my whites!” When hosting family and friends, he was on the lookout for the unexpected quip that would “make people laugh and feel at ease in his home.”

One of my fondest memories was watching Jerry Lewis movies with my Dad…or rather watching my Dad watch Jerry Lewis. Seeing the tears run down his face and hearing him gasp for breath inevitably had the whole family doing the same.

A final theme was his meticulousness. His cars were kept in immaculate condition, no missed oil changes or rough running engines allowed. The AAA trip-tick maps were highlighted before we hit the road. Many winters were spent pouring over seed catalogs and sketching detailed plans on graph paper for that year’s vegetable garden. He was a careful dresser. One grandchild recalls the care he took polishing his shoes and how his invitation to help by “passing him the little brush and cloth” was a tangible sign of his love for them.

Dad raised dreamers. At one time or another, each of his children wanted to be a musician or an artist, an air force pilot or a politician, a baseball player or an academic. We pursued things that no amount of meticulous planning could guarantee. He allowed us these dreams, encouraged them even. But he always wanted us to have a back-up plan. 

My brother (who is now reading my words) captured this best: “Ever since I was little,” he writes, “Dad would tease me about becoming a third generation accountant when I grew up (which I did).  My response was always ‘but what about what I want to be when I grow up?’ He never answered that, but I do remember him buying a catcher’s glove when I was interested in pitching and dreamed of playing baseball. Maybe that’s why he would take me to movies with him – to encourage me to dream big and imagine a world outside my own.”

So Dad, here’s to the laughs and the roses, to the dreams and the tears and the quiet, to contingencies and to a life well-lived, whatever it threw at you. We miss you and love you dearly.

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1 Response to Family thoughts on Gary Gloege

  1. Pat says:

    So incredibly beautiful. I can envision your Dad. And I see you, too, Tim.

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