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Meeting the man behind so many poignant letters

Dave Gallagher | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media

Dave Gallagher | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 28, 2013 6:07AM



“Even though we’re a week-and-a-half away from Thanksgiving, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

— Richard Roeper

I’ve read more than a few poignant letters to the editor through the years written by Dave Gallagher of Hobart. Our interview marked the first time we’d met. With cane in hand, he greeted me from his front porch as I exited my car.

Gallagher, 73, is widower who has a daughter living in New York.

***

“I was born in Gary and graduated from Horace Mann High School,” Gallagher began. “Johnny Rongers, two doors down from where we’re sitting, was the quarterback for Lew Wallace. Those were the days. I love that movie with John Travolta — ‘Grease.’ It’s never going be like that again.

“Back in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, I delivered the Gary Post. We used to refer to kids who went to Emerson as cake eaters. ‘You ain’t much of an athlete, you’re a cake eater.’ They called us cookie pushers. It was just a good-natured rivalry between Lew Wallace, Horace Mann and Emerson.”

Dave, whether I agreed with the person’s opinion or not, I always admired those who were willing to sign their names at the bottom of a letter to the editor.

“I called Quickly and said: ‘If those who submit to Quickly had to sign their names, Quickly would quickly disappear.’ Most Quickly posters have an ‘I can shoot you in the back from behind the bushes’ mentality.”

Your deceased wife?

“Sandy was a phlebotomist at Mercy Hospital where I worked maintenance. We were married close to 30 years. She had brain cancer. Sandy passed away right in this house. Before she went into a coma, she said: ‘David, we put this house together, let me die here. Promise me, you won’t let me go to a nursing home.’

“Our daughter, Dana, was 9 years old at the time. She slept in the room next to her mama. A week before Christmas, my sister-in-law was here and she shook me awake, and said: “I don’t think Sandy is going to get another breath.’ Thanks be to God it was over. It was a long year for everyone.”

Was Dana an only child?

“No, we had a son, Dan. Unfortunately, we lost him when he was 14. He was killed while riding his bicycle here in Hobart. He came off his bike and his head hit the pavement. I guess it was divine providence. I don’t know. I talked to Jesus all night long about it.”

Was Sandy alive when your son died?

“Yes, she died about two years after Danny died. Sandy lost her mind after we lost Danny. They say 73 percent of marriages end up in divorce after a child has died. It tears you apart.

“When he started school, we were told to get Dan evaluated. They said he was peculiar. They told us to take Danny’s books away. We took him to Chicago; the evaluation took a couple of days.”

And?

“They said: ‘Mr. Gallagher, you better get used to the term genius. This young man is absolutely outstanding.’”

Dave, Thomas Edison was deemed an idiot in grammar school. Let’s switch gears. Gallagher is about as Irish as a stuck hog. Are you Roman Catholic?

“Yes, Gallagher is Irish, but no, I’m a Lutheran.”

You volunteer at nursing homes.

“Yes, I put on concerts for the elderly by playing CDs. I used to go to nursing homes and orphanages as Santa. I miss being Santa so much. But the spine, knees and hip... Well, I had to give it up.”

Arthritis?

“Yeah, ‘Arthur’ has done a number on me, but there are people a lot worse off than me. There were so many things that I got to experience being Santa. I had Santa’s Castle here in downtown Hobart. Kids would be lined up all the way down the block.

“One year, in the middle of December, there was this boy who was wearing a spring jacket. He had a buzz haircut. You could tell the kid was poverty. I looked at him and said: ‘Can I help you, son?’ He said: ‘Probably not, I was told things are hard and there probably wouldn’t be much of nothin’ this year. But we are havin’ Christmas dinner!’ Then he stood aside and said: ‘But, Santa, could she at least have a doll?’”

Who was “she?”

“He had his little sister with him. She was standing there just a shivering, also dressed in a spring jacket. I wanted to get their names, but they disappeared into the crowd. That was the night Santa cried. I often wonder what happened to those little people. They were sure excited about that Christmas dinner.”

Thanksgiving?

“Thanksgiving seems to get bypassed anymore. It’s all about Halloween and then fast forwards to Christmas. All you see on TV is Christmas commercials. We haven’t even had Thanksgiving yet. Don’t people have anything to be grateful for? If you have a houseful of healthy kids, thank your God.”

***

I’m thankful for having finally met the kind soul whose name has appeared at the bottom of so many heartfelt letters to the editor.



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