By Jen Bakken
FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, MN On a farmstead in Franklin Township, 10 Gabrelcik siblings were raised, and the name has since become well known in the area.
As the oldest of the Gabrelcik sibling group, Gary isn’t surprised his family has grown to more than 100 members and counting.
“And we are all related around here,” said Gary. “If they aren’t my immediate family, they are cousins or something.”
After graduating from Delano High School in 1967, Gary began working in construction and taking vocational courses in carpentry.
“It all changed on my 21st birthday,” Gary remembered. “My birthday present was a notice saying I’d been drafted into the Army. Most people look forward to having a drink on their 21st birthday, and being drafted that day gave me even more reason to want that drink.”
During his 13 months stationed in Vietnam, he worked as a supply clerk, issuing clothes and weapons.
When he returned home, he attended his cousin’s wedding and met Bonnie Wandersee, who group up on a farm in Watertown. The couple was married six months later.
“It might of been his first day or week home from Vietnam when we met, and six months later we got married,” said Bonnie (Wandersee) Gabrelcik, then with a laugh she added, “He didn’t know how good he was gonna have it!”
Gary worked for local resident Jim Otto building houses, and attended drafting classes at Dunwoody Institute. Eight years later, he began his own company, Gary A. Gabrelcik Construction.
While building new homes, performing remodeling jobs and commercial construction, his business grew to, at one point, consist of 11 employees.
Three of Gary’s brothers also ended up in construction, and owning their own businesses including Gabrelcik Drywall in Delano, Don’s Electric in Delano, and Gabrelcik Enterprises in Minnetrista. His brother Gene now owns the family farm.
“I don’t know why we ended up in construction,” Gary said. “Maybe it was working on the farm, or something we picked because we could do it right away.”
If one asks Gary if he is retired, they may not get a definite answer. “Retired? Well, yes and no,” he said.
After recovering from a major back operation in 2007, that consisted of rods being placed in his back, he began taking smaller jobs. There are countless area homes and businesses that he has lent his handywork to.
“I just kinda take on jobs I can do myself now, though,” he said. “I enjoy it. I like being busy, but I like going fishing, too.”
In fact, its unclear which of these two likes fishing more. Bonnie can spend hours checking out the latest fishing lures.
The couple has two fishing boats, and enjoy time at their cabin near Mille Lacs year-round, as well.
“Gary is a hunter, too bear, deer, you know,” said Bonnie with a smile. “But, I don’t do any of that, that’s my time off.” During this free time she can be found working, knitting, or crocheting.
However, one wonders how much time off Bonnie has actually allowed herself over the years.
She has worked part-time for the Delano Theatre, done home typing for the former Carlson Company, and was employed at the former Delano Apparel, the Delano Eagle, the Star Tribune, and Taylor Meats in Watertown.
Most of these positions she worked at the same time. There would be a shift here and a shift there, morning, afternoon, or nights.
Somehow she kept up this unusually hectic schedule for many years while raising four children Debbie, Wendy, Dean, and Terry.
The Gabrelcik children actually shifted their job delivering the Star Tribune over to their mom. When they tired of delivering papers, mom began, and continued for nearly 24 years, ending up as a route manager.
Bonnie still works for Taylor Meats as a meat wrapper.
“I have been with them for 18 years.” she said. “During the deer season, the work schedule gets pretty hectic.”
The Gabrelciks attend St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Delano. Gary belongs to the VFW and is involved with Knights of Columbus, and Bonnie has been part of the Ladies Auxiliary for many years.
Throughout their 41 years of marriage, they have found joy in many things, including their four children and now nine grandchildren, fishing, bowling, and taking trips in their pickup camper.
There are a few collections around the Gabrelcik home. Gary belongs to the International Harvesters Collectors. He finds old iron, tractors, diggers, or rakes very interesting.
In their Delano kitchen rests a treasure trove of antique lanterns; however, they didn’t realize how many they had until recently.
I just started picking them up at garage sales for him (Gary),” said Bonnie. “They’ve been packed away for 25 years. I pulled them out his year and thought wow, I didn’t realize there were that many.”
The Gabrelciks are the type of couple one immediately feels comfortable with and could talk to for hours with a cup of coffee in hand.
Their sense of humor is also obvious when they talk about the countless hours they have spent in area ballrooms doing the Polish hop polka.
“We used to dance an awful lot, too,” added Bonnie. “But we just don’t hop anymore.”
They have plans to travel with their pickup camper and admit they look forward to long trips in the future.
“We like to drive ‘cuz there’s more to see that way,” said Bonnie, adding with a laugh. “And so far, even though we’re stuck together, we still get along.”