Outside Looking In
It was a sad day last week when I was informed by a member of Walt Gislason's family that the business mogul had passed away.
Walt and I met many years ago when Walt owned and operated Walt's, one of the most popular and successful gas station/convenience store/car wash/in-out oil change businesses in the region. It was located on the busiest intersection along Highway 71 in town and if was often referred to as a "gold mine" by many residents. There rarely was a moment when there weren't at least 10-12 vehicles patronizing the business.
Walt knew how to run a business, but he knew even better how to treat customers. He was often seen roaming around the gas pumps or at the car wash chit-chatting with customers. He built a rapport with them and they, in turn, would return his kindness by being repeat customers.
I had lunch and/or coffee with Walt numerous times, but he never once allowed me to pay.
"You paid last time, Walt," I would say to him.
"Yeah, and I'm paying this time, too," his response would always be.
You didn't argue with Walt because he didn't like you second guessing him. Besides, he was right way more often than he was wrong.
His generosity astounded me. Anytime he heard about someone needing help with something, he often was the first to offer assistance, either through a cash donation or by allowing a group the use of his car wash to raise money.
I know of several instances where Walt read in the Mascot about a need in Minneota and he would donate money to the cause. He never made a big deal out of it where he wanted his name mentioned in an article, though.
Walt and Raeanna made the move from Willmar to Wayzata several years ago as Walt's health began failing. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease and was relegated to a memory care unit.
Walt grew up in Minneota and graduated in 1954 from Minneota High School. He later co-owned Gislason Hardware with his brother for a short while before venturing north to open Walt's. Out of respect to Gislason, the current owners retained the name Walt's on the business.
Of the 25 years I spent working evenings at the West Central Tribune as a reporter and later as sports editor, Walt was one of only two or three readers I ever recall coming to the office to bring my staff treats as a way of telling us he approved of our work. He brought things like Dilly bars from the Dairy Queen, fresh rolls from the bakery, candy, free car wash and oil change coupons.
After knowing him for so many years, imagine the thrill I had when I found out he was one of the "Pickle Boys" when I was asking in my column if anyone knew the three boys who skipped school 75 years ago and were going to see the world with little money, a flashlight, a Bible and a jar of pickles. I dubbed the trio the "Pickle Boys". When I found out Walt was one of the boys, I called him up and despite his memory battle, he recalled that day and the names of the other two boys with him.
Raeanna then took a photo of Walt for me to use with my article of him holding a jar of pickles and a Bible.
There were times when Walt might have rubbed someone the wrong way because of his unwavering opinion on something. He had a small hillside of enemies, but he had a mountain full of friends.
Rest in peace, Walt. Pickles and all.