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Blue Earth connections across U.S.

By Staff | Jan 28, 2018

Faribault County Register staff writer Katie Mullaly’s column last week had to do with the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.

Basically, it means you are just six people away from knowing someone in common with another person, or tying two people together by who they both know.

It is something that has happened to many of us. We start talking to someone we just met and we quickly learn we both know someone, although we didn’t know each other.

I once was the One Degree of Chuck Hunt winner, without knowing it.

Two of my friends, who did not know each other at all, were gassing up at a service station in a small town in Texas.

The one noticed the other’s license plate was Minnesota, and asked where in Minnesota they were from.

Tyler, Minnesota was the answer. The first person asked if the other person knew Chuck Hunt, as I was the only person he knew of from Tyler.

Of course, the second person said. “I golf with him all the time.”

They both told me the story, and that they spent the next 20 minutes exchanging humorous anecdotes about me; mainly dealing with my lack of golfing skills.

But I digress.

The guest column we have in this week’s Register is also a classic case of finding out you know someone in common with a person you just met.

The story, headlined “How the grandfather I never met saved my job” was written by lifelong California resident Gwen Irene Shapiro.

It was a story she entertained her family with for many years. They finally convinced her recently to write it down, so she did.

Her second cousin, Sheldon Hayer, of Raleigh, North Carolina, decided it might be interesting to send a copy of the story to the editor of the local newspaper in Blue Earth, in case the newspaper might be interested in printing it.

We were very interested.

As writer Gwen Shapiro notes in her story, her grandfather was a beloved local businessman in Blue Earth in 1929.

He came to Blue Earth in 1900 and started a scrap iron business, but then also opened and ran a grocery store.

He was extremely community minded and willing to help out wherever he could.

His obituary in the Blue Earth Post of June 18, 1929, relates the following information: “He made money and friendships during the years of his life in Blue Earth, and few men pass on to their reward with more profound respect than does Nate Gendler. He was ever ready to aid and assist in any work of charity in his town or community.”

After his death, Gendler’s oldest son, Jacob (Jay) Gendler, quit college at Macalester and returned to Blue Earth to help run the two family businesses along with his mother, Bessie.

Unfortunately, both businesses succumbed to the Great Depression and closed.

Nate Gendler’s widow, Bessie, eventually went to live in Los Angeles with her daughter Helen Ruth (Gendler) Shapiro and her family, which included Helen’s daughter, Gwen Shapiro. Gwen Shapiro was born in L.A. in 1950.

As far as Gwen Shapiro’s boss in California goes, it was a man named Bernie Bernard. And according to Gwen’s mother, Helen, the Bernard family owned the hotel in downtown Blue Earth, which was the site of Helen Ruth (Gendler) Shapiro’s high school prom in 1933.

Gwen Shapiro has been back to Blue Earth several times, both as a child with her parents and as an adult. But, the last time was in 1988.

She says the Gendler home was somewhere on Nicollet Street, and that two women who were in their nineties (in 1988) remembered where the family grocery store had been and showed her the location.

From her recollection, it sounds as though it was somewhere near the intersection of Sixth and Main, possibly where Gazebo Park now is.

But, that is only a guess.

Since it closed nearly 90 years ago, it might be difficult to find someone who recalls the exact location. But, you never know.

The story is still interesting, both from having two people with a common connection finding out about it in California, to learning that the connection had its roots deep in Blue Earth history.

I hope you enjoy her story.