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home : obituaries : obituaries
March 24, 2023

1/27/2023 11:46:00 AM
Joseph E. Gillach

The self-described “luckiest man on earth,” Joseph Edward Gillach, died of old age on December 21, the winter solstice, at age 94, at home, with his children by his side. Always closely attuned to his body and spirit, at Thanksgiving he told his family he would be Gone to Glory, the Gillach term for dying, by Christmas despite few outward indications that he was in failing health.

Joe’s luck began in 1928 when he was born into the rambunctious, athletic, and fiercely competitive Gillach family of Aurora, on the Iron Range of Northern Minnesota. His mother and two sisters were strong-willed women, and their influence on Joe was evident in his choice of life-partner as well as in the great strength and character of his beloved daughter and granddaughters. His brothers, Jim and Tom, were his best friends throughout their lives. They loved to joke that Joe’s luck was so omnipresent that during the Depression, their mother often took Joe on her walks to the local grocery store because if there was loose change to be found along the way, Joe would surely spot it.

His luck continued when he joined the army in the final days of WWII. Under the GI Bill, he was able to attend the College of St. Thomas, and later in life, to obtain a mortgage on his first home. While in the military he was posted in Japan as a guard for a beer warehouse, enhancing his general popularity as well as solidifying the lore around his luck.

In 1956 Joe returned to Aurora and met his future wife, Patricia Mooney Gillach. Pat, who was a high school biology teacher, had just resigned on principle over the firing of a fellow teacher who had been accused of being gay. Joe was sent by his mother to ask her to stay. Talk of work led to beers, which led to a car ride where Pat put her head on Joe’s shoulder, prompting him to propose.

During their 54-year marriage, Joe’s career took them to the high desert of Chile with Anaconda Copper; back to small-town Minnesota (Chisago City and Forest Lake) where he was an English teacher and party activist in the Democratic Farm Labor Party of Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey; and to Colorado, where he ran a successful insurance agency. While work was essential for supporting his wife and five children, Joe’s true calling was a life of service to others--something his parents had instilled in all their kids. As he often quoted: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”

Throughout his life he worked tirelessly on behalf of the unhoused and underserved. From his earliest involvement in Minnesota politics, where he helped promote policies to protect marginalized communities, to his decades long work as a volunteer at numerous food banks, Joe gave quietly and generously. He particularly loved his work with the Twin Parish Food Bank in Denver, where he and his beloved fellow volunteers (the “buddies”) unloaded donated food, set up donation locations, collected used clothing and furniture, and tirelessly solicited money in support of people in need. Later he volunteered at the foodbank run by the Parish of St. Thomas in Boulder, CO, and at the Boulder Foodbank, where he became friends with a number of the clients, including Brody, who would visit Joe regularly for old issues of People Magazine and a little financial help. Pat often accused Joe of “trying to cut in line to heaven,” which undoubtedly was the case at his death.

At his core, Joe was a deeply spiritual man. Born into a devout Irish Catholic family, he practiced what his former wife, Pat, characterized as “smorgasbord Catholicism,” following the practices that resonated with his values while rejecting strictures that did not resonate with his heart. Later he enthusiastically embraced and helped financially support the Japanese art of Jin Shin Jyutsu, the practice of harmonizing the body’s life energy by the daily ritual of holds on the body’s energy meridian points. He could often be found in his favorite chair with one hand on a cheekbone and the other holding his knee. As he lay dying, he insisted on keeping his left hand positioned under his left buttock, the meridian point for transformative energy.

Joe was blessed with two love affairs. First to Patricia Mooney Gillach, whose inexhaustible energy for travel and wide-ranging passions kept him on the move and on his toes. He often credited Pat for “dragging him around the world,” objecting to yet another travel adventure only to return home to exclaim it was the best trip yet. After Pat’s death in 2012, he was both surprised, and, in equal measure grateful to fall in love with Ann Quinn, whose gentleness, attentiveness, easy laughter, and passion for sports brought joy in his final years.
Joe is survived by his five children; Joe (Reynaldo), Mary, Tim (Lori), Terry (Machal), Jim (Ann), 12 grandchildren, and two great-grandsons. He will be deeply missed by his beloved, best friend Daryl Smith, whom the Gillach children often refer to as their sixth sibling; his Centering Prayer Group who met weekly at his home; and all the cherished, fellow residents of Walnut Hollow Lane, including Patty, Amber, Marie, Scott, and John. He was adored by the oodles of Gillach nieces and nephews, and in turn, were adored by him. And by a wide group of friends, a reflection of his deep interest in everyone’s story.

A Memorial Celebration will be held Friday, February 17, at 1:30 p.m. at the Omni Hotel in Superior, Colorado, with a reception to follow.

Donations can be made in Joe’s memory to the Twin Parishes Food Bank in Denver (https://www.twinparishesfoodbank.org/) or to the Harvest of Hope Food Bank in Boulder (https://hopepantry.org/)

The family requests no flowers, but asks people to pour a glass of wine, preferably box wine, which he favored, and remember a man who lived by the adages of “keep it simple,” “go with the flow,” and above all else, to “be of service to others.” Lucky Joe. And lucky are his family and friends to have had him for 94 years.

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