By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN Talk with anyone who knew Dean Gayner, 81, of Dassel, and they will likely tell you how much he loved the community of Dassel and how he was always up for a good laugh.
How fitting then that the two main themes at Dean’s funeral last Wednesday in Dassel were community and laughter.
“He was such an icon in the town,” said his daughter, Jenna O’Brien. “He had his fingers in almost everything in Dassel.”
Being committed to the community and giving back is what his daughter, Rae said she has learned from him.
“He got me involved in the community,” she said, explaining that she was a Dassel princess in 1976, and continues to be involved in the historical society and Dassel Rod and Gun Club, even though she lives in St. Paul.
Tom Gayner will always cherish the love he and his father shared for hunting and fishing, taking trips to Canada together.
“Growing up, he was my best friend and my hero,” Tom said, adding that his father never missed one of his sporting events.
Many may recall Dean coming around at the end of winter for the Lake Washington Ice Out, a tradition that started with his parents, Hazel and Karl Gayner, who also lived on the lake. For $1, one could take a guess on when the ice would come off Lake Washington. That price has since been raised to $2. Dean would joke that anyone could play except dogs, cats, and unborn children.
“He lived to do it,” Tom said.
Now, the three-generation family tradition will continue with Jenna and husband Terry, also residents of Lake Washington.
After returning home from serving in the US Army, Dean worked with his father, operating Gayner Hardware Store on Dassel’s main street. Dean later purchased the store, which he operated until 1981, when it closed.
It saddened Dean to see businesses in downtown Dassel dwindling away, Jenna commented.
In 1957, Dean married Arlys Noreen Rieck of Howard Lake. Jenna joked that he endured many years of purple since she was “obsessed” with the color. Noreen died in 1998, from complications during heart surgery.
Dean had been a 50-year member of the Dassel Commercial Club (chamber).
“His dream was that someday downtown Dassel would be like that again,” Jenna said. He also contributed to the recently published “Main Street Kids: Our Town 1930-1970s,” featuring stories by those who grew up in the Dassel business environment.
After the hardware store closed, Dean also drove school bus, ran a small engine repair shop in Dassel for several years, and was an active member of the Paul F. Dille American Legion for 54 years.
He was also a proud member of the Dassel Fire Department for nearly 27 years (until moving out of the city limits), and authored the 125th anniversary book on the history of the department.
Fire Chief Dale Grochow said Dean was always a strong supporter of the fire service and would always make the comment that it was the best department in the state.
As evident by the history book Dean authored, he was also the “go-to” guy for gathering information about the fire department’s past, Grochow commented.
“The Dassel Fire Department as a whole will miss him,” Grochow said.
Dassel’s Red Rooster Days wouldn’t be the same event it is today without Dean, who was one of the original committee members of the event when it began in the 1950s.
Dean enjoyed sharing the story of the red-dyed rooster that was chased by a cat in a Kingston bar while he and his cronies were trying to sell Red Rooster Day tickets. The rooster was their clever marketing tool.
Despite the fiasco the rooster caused, they did end up selling tickets.
When it came to the history of Dassel, one didn’t need to use Google; you asked Dean. “He had it all in his brain,” Jenna said.
“We are so grateful for Dean’s interest in and support for the Dassel Area Historical Society through the years,” said Carolyn Holje, director of the Dassel History Center. “He has been involved since the beginning, sharing his ideas, his knowledge of the history of Dassel, and his time.”
Not only was Dean a man of wisdom, but also one of humor.
He loved sharing Ole and Lena jokes, which Pastor John Peterson of Gethsemane Lutheran Church can attest to.
It was upon their first meeting at Hojies when Dean shared with him an Ole and Lena joke, and it just so happened he also shared a joke on their last meeting, as well, Peterson explained. Peterson found it fitting to share that same joke with those who attended Dean’s funeral.
“He was full of jokes,” Peterson said, adding that he was such a people person. “He was connecting with people all the time. That was just his nature.”
Gerry Bollman was a friend of Dean’s, and served on the fire department with him for more than 20 years, eight of those when Gerry was chief.
“He was an excellent firefighter and a good leader,” Bollman said.
“Of course we’ve had a lot of coffee together, shook some dice, and had a lot of good conversations,” he said of Dean.
Whether it was on the fire department, the commercial club, or Red Rooster Committee, “Dean promoted Dassel very, very well,” Bollman said.
Dean was also involved in sports, and was inducted into the North Star League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.
Bollman remembers when Dean played first-baseman and would holler to people who drove into the parking lot to shut their lights off because they caused a distraction in the game.
“He just gave so much to this community,” Jenna. “If we can all die leaving an impact on the community like he did, then we’ve done pretty good.”