Posted 1/20/15 (Tue)
Arthur “Mervin” Gajewski, 88, of rural Alexander, N.D., more recently of Billings, Mont., died Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, at St. Vincent’s Health Care in Billings, Mont.
Mervin, as he became known, was born on Nov. 20, 1926, in Sidney, Mont., the middle of three sons, to Otto and Lillia Bessie (Marburger) Gajewski. He was severely premature, and the doctors sent him and his parents’ home to the farm in Alexander, N.D., without much hope for the boy who was so tiny he could fit in his father’s hand, and had a shoebox for a crib. But in what would become a pattern in his life, Mervin had a wealth of guardian angels and a tenacity for coming through.
Mervin was devoted to the agricultural life, and after losing his parents in the 1950s, he continued to run the family farm with his older brother, Loren. The two were a team and had many adventures together, flying across the country in Loren’s airplanes, going to such places as Washington, D.C., and St. Louis. Heavily involved in grass roots politics, they tried to right what they considered to be the wrongs of the world. He fought various court cases alongside Loren, the two acting as their own lawyers, doing the legal research, and winning a fair amount of the trials. Throughout his life, Mervin would always have his causes.
In 1973, Loren married Naomi Sartain, and together they had two daughters, Lillia and Lorna. While Mervin would never marry or have children of his own, he lived in the same house with Loren’s family and became more than simply an uncle to his nieces. The years after Loren married were quieter than Mervin’s previous life had been. Mervin developed a love for fruit trees and gardening; proudly conserving from year to year seeds for a cucumber that, he claimed, never became bitter. His rhubarb patch had nearly a dozen plants, and every year he and Naomi tended a half-acre garden. He was a master at baking bread and never missed a Sunday morning, making pancakes and often, sausage. He also loved to tinker, with a string of little projects littering the shop, and he diligently cared for his “herd” of eight cows and a bull, and was chief paw-wiper for the farm’s pack of dogs, never less than three, and as many as seven at a time.
The relationship among the three Gajewski brothers had been fraught with discord for many decades, but in the 1990s, his younger brother Arden returned from Texas, and began helping during the active season. For at least three months a year, the Gajewski boys were back together, and fences were mended. Outside of his family and the farm, Mervin was devoted to the church, as he had been from childhood. He never missed a Sunday service - often going twice - to morning services at the Nazarene Church in Alexander where he taught Sunday school, and evening services at the Nazarene Church in Williston. He frequently bribed his nieces into joining him in the evening with the offer of ice cream.
In 1999, Loren passed away, and, with her daughters’ already moved on for college and then work, Naomi left the farm to be closer to them. The man who had often put his social focus on his family suddenly found himself alone for much of the year, but just as he had done many times in his life, he bounced back. He joined the Lions Club in Alexander and became more involved in the town’s activities. Even as he was developing stronger friendships, in 2010, he was to suffer another blow as his younger brother passed away.
However, Mervin’s loneliness was not to last long. The farm bustled with people again, this time in the form of boarders, who were friends of friends, and were seeking their fortune in the Bakken. Though several would cycle through; one, Mark Ziegler, remained on and, for the last two years of Mervin’s life, was a companion, hired man, and finally caretaker.
In January 2014, Mervin fell and broke his hip, and he came out to Billings, Mont. On Jan. 15, 2015, a year and three surgeries later (hip and his knees), Mervin had put his everything into rehabbing and getting himself home, and was less than a week away from making a trial trip back to N.D. He went out to lunch with friends, and was having fun telling stories, laughing, and eating when he passed out. Never regaining consciousness, he slipped away the next day due to heart failure. Up to the end, we all thought he’d once again beaten all the odds, and he’d be going back to the farm. While the family was blessed to have the time with him in Billings, our hearts are broken that he never got the chance to see his beloved home again.
Mervin is preceded in death by his parents, Otto and Bessie Gajewski, and both brothers, Loren and Arden Gajewski. He is survived by his sister-in-law, Naomi Gajewski; his nieces, Lillia (Eric Johnson) Gajewski and Lorna Gajewski; a great-niece, Josephine Gajewski (all of Billings, Mont.); and a niece-in-spirit, Merrilie (Jerry) Wooledge, and their son, Mark, of Redfield, S.D.
His funeral service will be held at 11 a.m., Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Alexander. Pastor Kevin Beard and Rev. Don Josephson will officiate. Interment will be in the Alexander Cemetery.
Friends may call at the Fulkerson Funeral Home on Thursday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and at the church one hour prior to services on Friday. Friends may sign the on-line register book and give their condolences at www.fulkersons.com.