John Douglas Garsjo, 57, of Mabank, Texas, passed away Monday, August 11, in Tyler, Texas. He died from complications arising from a stroke. He was born on what was probably a cold snowy day, November 19, 1956, in Glasgow, Montana, home to the large Garsjo family. His parents, Wilma and Victor Garsjo, had another son, Mike, in April of 1958. They owned and operated the Fort Peck Bar in Nashua. Wilma was taken by cancer in April of 1967, at age 47, when John was 11 and Mike was almost 9. Her illness was lengthy, spreading over several years. For the most part, the boys were looked after by Cousin Marilyn (Garsjo) Johnson who left her job in Billings to help, their aunt Avhild, and Grandma Peck (Wilma's mother) who lived next door. This gave Victor time to spend in Billings while Wilma was ill. Grandma Peck was in ill health toward the end of her life, and passed away in September, 1967. Marilyn and Avhild continued to watch over them after her death while Victor dealt with her passing.
When Wilma was gone, John and Mike and Victor spent much of the summers at their Uncle Hartvik and Aunt Agnes Garsjo's farm, with the youngest six of their eight children. Victor helped with the harvest and the boys learned to ride horses, brand cattle, pick rocks out of the fields, and drive tractors. They did not learn to speak Norwegian, although they were introduced to the Norwegian delicacies of lutefisk and lefse at an early age. They spent much of their time on the Milk River fishing, varmint hunting, and built a hidden "fort" in the bank of the river. Another hideout was constructed in the attic above the garage, as well as a couple of non-sanctioned tree houses. For several summers, they rode their bikes to the swimming pool below Fort Peck Dam and took swimming lessons. The boys attended Nashua High School, and during this time Victor married Berniece (Grabofsky), their stepmother for nearly forty years. She passed away in 2011.
John graduated from high school in 1975, and went into the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Germany, working as a helicopter mechanic. When he returned to northern Montana, he moved to Malta, and met and married a childhood friend, JoAnne Jones from Wagner. They eventually divorced.
He got a job on a seismic crew and followed them to Louisiana. He moved to Grand Prairie, Texas, in the early 1980's, and got a job as an equipment operator with the city. He lived with a roommate who kept pit bulls in their back yard. The young family across the fence lost toy after toy to the dogs, and John crossed the fence (no doubt to apologize for the dogs or give a ball back) and joined the Vaughn family: Darla, and her three young children, Christy, 6; David, 5; and Sonya, 2; and a variety of (smaller) dogs. They had family picnics at a nearby park every Saturday, and on many occasions would visit one of Texas's characteristic game farms, which had llamas and bison. There, he would regale the wide-eyed children with tales of animals and their behavior, and waking up with moose in his room (in Nashua). Christy, finally having a "real" dad, remembers him taking her to "bring your daughter to work day", surprising the men he worked with but not letting her drive the backhoe.
He treated the children as his own, taking them shooting with B-B and pellet guns, and taking them fishing: baiting their own hooks was required. David remembers John teaching him to drive. He took David to work with him when he was a teenager, teaching him the construction trade; in recent years, he and David worked on houses for Habitat for Humanity in Cedar Creek, Texas.
Sonya has no memory of life without him. She also got to go to "take your daughter to work" day a few years later, and didn't get to drive the backhoe either. Sonya loved helping him work on cars, and she can still change oil, transmission fluid, and brake pads.
John's brother Mike, and his wife Marie, moved to Fort Worth, Texas, in 2000 for job promotions and the chance to be closer to John. Being only about 90 miles apart, the reunion was quick and blessed. Since then, John visited Mike and Marie's home frequently. The boys worked on cars, fixed things, broke things, worked in the yard, shot guns, and went on fishing trips to the Gulf of Mexico.
John was shy but funny, a hard worker, a fair mechanic (trial and error), he was good with his hands, and he loved animals. He was a good father, a fabulous grandfather; in general he was a great guy who cared about the people around him, and would help anyone in need.
John most recently worked for Larry Partridge Construction. After Tropical Storm Ida, which hit the Atlantic Coast in November of 2009, Larry and John headed off to Alabama in Larry's truck; leaving Texas with no formal plans, just the desire to help the people rebuild their lives. They spent a week there, living mostly out of the truck, working on damaged homes, and were extremely affected by the experience.
Victor and Wilma with John and Mike, circa. 1959.
He is survived by his wife of 27 years Darla Vaughn; her daughter Christie; her son David and Porscha and their children Sarah, 8, Summer, 6, and David Junior, 5; her daughter Sonya and John Lightfoot and their children Nevaeh, 10, and Dakota, 2; his brother Mike and his wife Marie of Fort Worth, Texas, Mike's daughter Landon of Belgrade, Montana; and the many, many members of the Garsjo family. We will all miss him terribly. He will rejoin his Garsjo and Peck grandparents, his parents, his step mother, most of his uncles, all of his aunts, and several of his cousins at the gates of heaven.
For his Texas family and friends, a memorial service was held Saturday, August 16, at the First United Methodist Church of Mabank, Texas. Following the service, a celebration of his life was held, complete with a balloon release, burned hot dogs (his specialty) and a huge cake in the shape of a Busch beer can, and "refreshments" provided by his brother and sister in law.
As Montana always was "home" for John, a memorial service is being planned by the family to be held at Our Redeemers Lutheran Church in Nashua on Saturday, October 4, 2014, at 2:00 p.m ., with Pastor Bonnie Novak officiating.