George F. Gebes_________________________________
George F. Gebes, 98, of Batavia, Ill., passed away peacefully on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, at his home in the company of his family. Born to Frank and Bertha (nee Dirndorfer) on July 8, 1915, in Milesville, S.D.,
George grew up on the family ranch. He married Frances M. Lies on April 30, 1938, at St. Michael's Church in Wheaton. They built a life together for 72 years until her passing in 2011.
Growing up on the family ranch in South Dakota, George became an accomplished horse training hand, working with riding and working horses. His special horse, Smokey, was trained to start moving as soon as a foot was placed in the stirrup, guaranteeing that no one else would ride him. As an older teenager, he went on one of the last cattle drives from Kansas City to Wyoming, a job he said was hard and never romantic as depicted in the movies. When he moved to Illinois, his cowboy hat came with him and became his personal lifelong trademark along with his cowboy boots.
In 1936, George came to Illinois to work for Schott's Premier Rose Garden Greenhouse in Batavia, owned by his uncle. When he met Frances after Ash Wednesday services at Holy Cross Church in Batavia, he decided not to return to South Dakota and to make his home in Batavia. After they were married, he worked at the Challenge Windmill Company. Recently, he was taped for BaTV on a tour of the transformed buildings, identifying what types of work had been done in the various rooms.
Realizing that he needed to upgrade his skills, George rode the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin third rail into Chicago and to DeVry to study electronics. Using these skills, George and his small family moved to Michigan where he worked at Willow Run B-24 Bomber Plant in Ypsilante, Mich.
When George's draft number was called, the family returned to Batavia, and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He entered boot camp at Great Lakes and continued training in Norfolk, Va., where he eventually was assigned to the Black Gang of the LST Eleanor #813. He with the rest of the crew boarded the newly built ship in Evansville, Ind., and sailed on it down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico and through the Panama Canal to WWII action in the South Pacific Theater of War. At 27, being the oldest man in his unit, the other sailors referred to him as Dad. His LST saw action throughout the island campaigns, including Okinawa and Iwo Jima. When Iwo Jima was secured, he and some Navy buddies were able to climb Mount Suribachi where the iconic flag raising had taken place. During one of the invasions, a kamikazi boat hit the Eleanor. Quick work by the Black Gang with George as their leader prevented the ship from sinking and suffering no loss of life.
Upon his discharge, George sought yet another occupation in which to practice his considerable skills: construction work. He worked for commercial and custom housing builders until finally plying his no-job-too-difficult attitude at Illinois youth correctional centers. He oversaw the construction and remodeling of several facilities. During this time, he used the skills learned in the floral business to establish a greenhouse program for the residents with Don Dolby, a local florist. This program was awarded many honors for its unique nature in working with these young residents.
After the war, George met a small group of WWI vets who had a withering VFW organization. He and several buddies joined the group, and with the influx of new energy and vision, the VFW Post 1197 and Batavia Overseas Club was born. George secured a loan for property on the east side of the Fox River with the intention of building a place for veterans to honor them as well as provide them with a place that promoted their ideals of community. George is the last of that original group that laid the foundations for and saw the development of the Batavia Overseas Post 1197 on South River Street, Batavia.
Their intent of building a stronger community and a place of fraternity gave rise to many events. The present day Loyalty Day Parade came from that era. George with his wife, Fran, developed the idea of the Friday night fish fry that became a mainstay for many in the Fox Valley for many years and supported their community contributions. George's work with the VFW carried him into several offices, including Quartermaster of the Batavia post for extended years and Commander of the Kane County District VFW.
Besides his involvement with the VFW, George was an active member of the Knights of Columbus 2191, carried over from his membership begun as a young man in South Dakota. He was one of the originators of the annual KC Corned Beef and Cabbage dinners that provided the group with funds for carrying out their philanthropic mission. George's many community involvements included serving as Fourth Ward Alderman for Batavia, member of the Kane County Mounted Patrol, and a 77-year member of Holy Cross Church where he was an usher for over 50 years and provided the flowers for Sunday services in the original Holy Cross Church on Wilson Street.
He loved returning to South Dakota to visit and hunt with his family. In May of 2012, he and his son-in-law were on an Honor Flight to Washington D.C., George being one of the oldest WWII veterans and Richard one of the youngest.
He is survived by his three children, Barbara (Richard) Kalina of Batavia, Ralph Gebes of Batavia and Tom (Denise) Gebes of Littleton. Colo.; eight grandchildren, Cynthia (Robert) Kaminsky of McKinney, Texas, Susan (Erich) Heinrich of Anchorage, Alaska, John Kalina of Greensboro, N.C., Marianne (Oskar) Anderson of Marshall, Wis., Paul (Frances) Kalina of Iowa City, Iowa, Kristine (Jeremy) Gerard of Riverdale, N.Y., Elyse Gebes of Missouri, and Erin Gebes of Littleton, Colo.; and 12 great-grandchildren, Angela (Doug) Clifton, Matthew Kaminsky, Marion and August Kalina Heinrich, Josephine, Elizabeth, and George Anderson, Henry, Levi, and Hattie Kalina, and Sofie and Emanuel Gerard. He leaves many nieces and nephews, as well as great- and great-great- nieces and nephews, and dear friends and neighbors, as well as many stories untold and parties uncelebrated.
In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Frances; his four sisters, Mary, Katherine, Anna and Agnes; and four brothers, Joseph, Jerome, Henry and Wilbur.
The Mass celebrating George's life was celebrated by Fr. Joseph Folzenlogen, SJ, on Saturday, November 9, at Holy Cross Catholic Church, 2300 Main St., Batavia.