Michael G. Garry
FAIRMONT — “Everybody was always good to me,”Mike Garry said, the evening before he died, and as he paged through a scrapbook of youthful memories. “And they still are,” he added, looking up with the smile that displayed his unceasing gratitude for the life he had been given. There were never strangers in Mike’s life – only new acquaintances of whom he had not yet had a chance to ask his portfolio of questions. People were good to Mike, and he was so grateful for all their kindness, but perhaps they were so kind because he treated them like family.
Mike Garry passed away Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, riding in the front seat of his car next to his son. At the time of his death, his interest in people and love of his community were as strong as ever. Traffic in Fairmont will move more smoothly now that Mike no longer insists that his driver proceed at a speed slow enough for him to recollect all the family histories of all the occupants of all the houses lining the street. And when he went out to lunch, he studied the city address book and parish directory. He never wanted to forget a name or face. One of his greatest joys was serving as greeter for the Knights of Columbus breakfasts, where he could be assured of talking to every single person who came in the door.
Michael was 95 years old, but had the energy of a 45 year-old. During the time it took to get dressed in the morning, he would dictate five or six different projects to the family member with him. And when he could no longer get out as easily as he once could, he became a letter-writer, hoping to spread his encouragement and support to those he thought needed it. His published essays tried to convey a sense of optimism and purpose. Michael believed in hope, and he did what he could to spread it. Never did anyone hear Michael say, “I’m too tired to do that,” or “I just don’t feel like it,” or “Let’s just sit and relax.” According to another of his writings: “Even a woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he used his head and keeps pecking away until he finishes the job.”
Not once did Michael ever say he wished he had lived anywhere other than Martin County. His father’s parents, both born in Ireland, came to Martin County in 1868. His mother’s parents (James and Ella Gorman) trekked on foot from LaCrosse, Wis. and settled on a farm located several miles from the farm the Garry family would later homestead. Michael would always identify with the immigrant identity.
Michael’s mother, Gertrude Gorman, started teaching at a country school after her sophomore year in high school. She married Michael’s father in 1911. After a year of marriage, Michael’s father became a grain elevator owner and operator, moving to four different towns in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa before coming back to Fairmont in 1936. Michael was 12 years old at the time, and would live in Fairmont for the rest of his life, with the exception of his four years of college at the University of Notre Dame.
He grew up during the Great Depression, amidst all the poverty and deprivation of that time. But it didn’t dent his hope in life. He always said, “your life is what is given you, make the most of it.” He cherished the family in which he grew up. As he wrote in a letter to his children, his family name meant everything to Michael:
My dad was a hardworking, honest, faithful and caring man and I am honored to share my name with him. Sometimes I catch myself in a “Dad’s moment” using a phrase he would have used in a similar situation. Years ago that would have annoyed me, but I have grown into my name. I have come to appreciate and love the way my dad was, and in turn, his example gave me a good life. My mother was very strong mentally and physically worked so hard when I was young; we lived on the second floor apartment over a store, that had 12 foot ceilings and no water was piped to the apartment. She had to carry all the water up the steps from the first floor store. Her faithful performance day after day has been an inspiration to me. I love that my name encompasses both sides of my family: Garry for my dad’s side, Gorman for my mom’s. I am tall like the Garry’s, and maybe act like a Gorman. Regardless of whatever else changes in my life, it will always be my name. In the end though, it is my most important possession, my biggest source of pride.
Michael owned and operated Garry Elevator, Inc. for 40 years, before selling it in 1986. His success came in part from his enthusiasm and constant desire to learn. Even the day before he died, he kept asking questions about what kinds of yields farmers were getting in this year’s harvest. (Just as years earlier, he would ask his traveling children to pull their car over on the highway and trudge into adjacent fields to pick ears of corn and bring them home). He never sat at a table without a newspaper or magazine in front of him, and never wore a shirt without a pen in the pocket.
Michael’s interests and activities were hardly confined to his job. His love for his church and community inspired endless volunteer projects, a list of which appears below. And yet, anyone who knew Michael knew that he wasn’t defined by his activities and projects. He was, as we all remember, defined by how eagerly he smiled at the sight of a friend; how much he could not wait to meet that new person sitting next to him; how much he was interested in every person to whom he was talking. As he once wrote, “over a lifetime your contribution in this world will not be measured so much by what you have accomplished but rather by what you have stood for as a person.”
This is not, of course, to say that he didn’t believe in projects. He never hosted a family event without including a corresponding service project. For years, his children and grandchildren spent their Christmas Eves delivering Meals on Wheels or playing music for the Salvation Army Christmas lunch.
Despite the unbounded breadth of his interests, Michael’s life rested on one consistent pillar: his Catholic faith. He once described faith as “the bird who sees the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.” He loved the story of the talents in the Gospel of Matthew. As he wrote to a confirmation student he was advising: “What you do with your talents is your gift to God.” And in one of the notes he composed during his late-night writing sessions, he wrote “The things we give back to God are the only things we keep for eternity.” To Michael, faith was the one true inheritance passed on by his ancestors, and he did everything he could to preserve and pass on that inheritance. As he said of his parents, “they would only live in a town with a Catholic school for their children.”
It was his faith that inspired his commitment to the Knights of Columbus, an organization to which he belonged for half a century and devoted endless effort, cherishing the friendship and camaraderie of his fellow Knights. And it was Michael’s faith that led him and his wife Liz to pioneer the nation’s first parochial school endowment for St. John Vianney School. It was his faith that prompted his daily Rosary. And his faith that filled his lips with prayer during his last moments of life.
His family will miss him tremendously, just as he missed his deceased family members and his beloved wife, Liz. At 95 years old, Mike still took care of his family as much as he did at 40. His sharp wit and broad smile made him a joy to be with. It was an indescribable privilege and blessing for his family to have as many years and as many memories as they had with him.
We will remember his words: “Be involved; the world needs the best you’ve got to offer – pray for grace.”
If one’s life can be measured by the degree that he will be missed by those who knew and loved him, Mike could not have lived a better life.
Michael is survived by the eight children he raised with his wife Elizabeth: daughter, Mary Jane Hellyar (Ken) of Rochester, N.Y., and their children Christopher (and his son Jonathan) and Alice; son, Patrick Garry of Vermillion, S.D.; daughter, Kate Boyle (John) of Minneapolis, Minn., and their children Jeffrey (Amy and their children Louis and George) and Joseph; son, Daniel Garry (Mary) of Eagan, Minn., and their children Glynnis, John, Grace, and Patrick; son, Thomas Garry (Kim) of Fairmont, and their children Jessica and Marissa Studniski (Troy and their son Tristen); daughter, Maureen Maus (Paul) of Salt Lake City, Utah, and their children Katherine and Jane; son, Joseph Garry of Eagan, and his children Michael and Monica; daughter, Anne Betts (Jeffrey) of Minneapolis, and their children Sarah, Stephen, Jack, and Rachel. Michael was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Elizabeth; parents, Michael J. and Gertrude Garry; and sisters, Dorothy Scheuring and Frances Hilger.
A sampling of Michael’s activities:
— Board Member of St. John Vianney School
— Founder of St. John Vianney Endowment Fund
— Grand Knight, State Treasurer, State Warden, Knight
of the Year Award, and 4th Degree Knight,
Knights of Columbus
— Delegate to 1958 and 2010 Supreme Council,
Knights of Columbus
— Founding Director of Minnesota Knights of
Columbus Scholarship Fund
— President of Fairmont Community Hospital
— Board Member of Partners in Education
— Recipient of Fairmont Exchange Club Golden
— Founding Director of Fairmont Foundation
— Director of Fairmont High School Band Boosters
— Board Member of Fairmont United Fund
— President and Director of Southern Minnesota Grain
Elevator Managers Association
— Director and Treasurer of Martin County Historical
— Director, Fairmont 1st National Bank Board of
— Board Member of Dollars for Scholars
— Founding Member of Fairmont Exchange Club
— Vice-President of Salvation Army Board
— SCORE Advisor
— Scoutmaster of Troop 60
— President of Friends of Cedar Point for North Star
— University of Notre Dame Alumni Class President
— Appointed Notre Dame District Chairman by Father
Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame
— Board Member of College of St. Benedict Parent’s
— Author, four books and numerous newspaper essays
Please join the family in a public Rosary for Michael Garry 3:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25 at Lakeview Funeral Home in Fairmont, followed by visitation from 4-8 p.m. A short prayer service will be held 7:30 p.m., followed by refreshments and recollections. Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10;30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, St. John Vianney Catholic Church, with visitation an hour prior to Mass. A lunch will follow Mass at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Fairmont. Burial will be held Sunday, Oct. 27, in Calvary Cemetery, Blue Earth. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to St. John Vianney Endowment Fund or the Martin County Historical Society.