Losing a friend

by Irene Grahek

I have lost another good friend in Marie Garni. She and I go back 50 years in Ely throughout our single, married and family life. Marie Zarshe was born in Stillwater, MN and was a graduate of St. Catherine’s as an occupational therapist. <BR><BR>Little did she know when she came to Ely for a visit to see her former college roommate, Mary Jean Foster Hendrickson, that she would wind up as a permanent resident of Ely. It was that visit and an introduction to a very handsome Louis Garni Jr. that did the trick, and before long a wedding was planned in Stillwater in 1954. <BR><BR>Mary Jean Hendrickson, a kindergarten teacher, had already met and married another local boy, John Hendrickson, and it just so happened that someone named Irene Bergeron (another school teacher) met a local fellow named Joe Grahek, and wedding bells rang for them the same year. We three couples became fast friends for many years.<BR><BR>One of the reasons we women got along so well is the fact that we were all new to Iron Range culture. None of us knew what Potica, Strukle, Zgance in Zele, Kala Mojakka, or Pennukakkus was or how to make any of it, and we hadn’t ever taken saunas and jumped into a cold lake. It was a learning process, and we all passed the grade, but not without a great deal of coaching from our husbands. Joe’s favorite saying was “When you leave the Iron Range, you enter the United States.”<BR><BR>We all belonged to the same bridge club for over 30 years. This group met every two weeks at 8 p.m. after the kids were put to bed, and we usually got home about midnight. Those parties always included a full meal where each of us tried to out do the other with our cooking talents.<BR><BR>Smoking was the vice of the day, as seven out of nine women smoked. You can imagine how our homes smelled after a night of bridge, but finally we woke up. In 1963, a year before the Surgeon General’s warning, we quit for Lent and to this day, I believe everyone involved has remained smokeless. I’m certainly grateful for that decision.<BR><BR>As our kids were growing up and in school we went back to work. Marie established the Occupational Therapy department at Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital and Nursing Home. I worked at the Ely Housing Authority, and Mary Jean did some substitute teaching. However, we didn’t allow work to interfere with our playtime, and we still managed to get together for dinners, shopping trips and visits. <BR><BR>We even organized a dance club for 50 couples. Each month a dance was held at the National Home with live music and sometimes entertainment. It was so successful that a second dance club was begun for another 50 couples. The reason for limiting the number of couples was that we couldn’t accommodate more than 100 people on the dance floor on one night. Those dance clubs existed for several years, and were enjoyed by many!<BR><BR>As we grew older, the Grim Reaper began to take its toll. Mary Jean was the first to leave us when she died of cancer in 1984; Louis Garni, the fellow we only ever referred to as “Garni” also succumbed to cancer in 1987; John was killed in a car accident in 1995; and my husband, Joe died in 2003. <BR><BR>I’m hoping they were all there to greet Marie when she arrived, and had a regular Iron Range reunion. I’m the only one left of those three couples, but I surely do remember our good times, and I am grateful we had all that time together.