Greenville, Maine WEATHER
Minnie Lee, Ann Bready and Gerry enjoying some time on the porch in the summer of 1969. Ann Bready and her husband Fred were from MA and leased one of Gerry's camps year-round. They would spend the entire summer at Gartley's Camps. Gerry & Fred were fishing buddies. Minnie Lee & Ann spent quite a bit of time together with trips to town etc. ~Bill Spach contributed photo

Minnie Lee, Ann Bready and Gerry enjoying some time on the porch in the summer of 1969. Ann Bready and her husband Fred were from MA and leased one of Gerry’s camps year-round. They would spend the entire summer at Gartley’s Camps. Gerry & Fred were fishing buddies. Minnie Lee & Ann spent quite a bit of time together with trips to town etc. ~Bill Spach contributed photo

By Emily Patrick

Though this column has developed in unexpected directions, when I think “People of the Lake” I still picture a strong, stoic outdoorsman, not unlike our first nominee, Casey Lacasce. In fact, it was Casey who first shared with me several yarns involving Gerry Gartley. Some of them weren’t fit for print, as you can imagine, but it got me thinking: few embody the spirit of the North Maine Woods like Gerry did. 

For those of you who didn’t know him, Gerry owned and operated the sports camps at Beaver Creek on Moosehead for many years. Gartley’s store, located on the main drag between Greenville and Kokadjo, was also the last stop for those brave enough to venture into the North Maine Woods but not foolish enough to do so without provisions. 

I wanted to learn more about Gerry but again, many of the stories I was told were just too outlandish to print in a small-town, family-friendly newspaper. I reached out to his son, Mark, who I hoped could give me a different perspective on his dear ol’ dad, and after playing phone tag for several weeks we finally connected. I did learn a lot about Gerry, which I’ll share, but I also uncovered an incredible story about a son’s bravery and the boundlessness of a mother’s love. 

Gerry was born in 1904, the youngest of 7 children and the only boy. Mark described him as “the little Prince.” Gerry grew up in Bangor and after school joined the State Police. Mark says that at the time, they simply gave the guys a uniform and a gun and told them to go out and enforce the law. Perhaps this experience gave Gerry the gusto to join the army, perhaps not, but either way after his time in the police force Gerry found himself stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky. 

While he was there, he met Miss Minnie Lee, the daughter of a widowed peach and tobacco farmer. The two were married and had a son, Mark and later, another son named Jim. When Mark was only a few months old, Gerry decided peaches and tobacco weren’t his forte and relocated the family to the Moosehead Lake Region of Maine.

Gerry made no bones about it: everyone who knew him understood he wasn’t a “lovey-dovey family guy;” even his sons were painfully aware. Gerry loved hunting and fishing, and very little else was made a priority. One of the first things Mark told me, however, is that his father loved horses. “Did Casey tell you the one about the quarter horse?” Mark asked. He hadn’t. To my delight, though outrageous, the story is still printable. So here it is, for your reading pleasure: 

One November, Gerry was boarding two horses in a little barn on his property. Mark and Gerry woke to a barn, but no horses. They followed two sets of tracks down to the lake. One set followed the shoreline; that horse was located and secured rather quickly. One set of tracks, however, led out onto the ice and stopped. 

The unfortunate animal had fallen through and drowned. Gerry’s friend Casey (does that name sound familiar?) came out and cut a path from the hole in the ice all the way to shore and dragged the lifeless body out. He left it on the shore to freeze and then came back the next day to cut it up (it didn’t occur to me then to ask Mark why, but knowing Casey he was using it for bait). He threw the pieces of the once-majestic creature into the back of his pickup truck and got Gerry’s attention as he drove by. “Hey Gerry,” he called. “Got something for ya!” 

“What’s that?” Gerry replied.

“Well, you said you always wanted a quarter-horse!” Casey quipped, motioning to the dismembered body in the back of his truck.

As our conversation wrapped up, Mark reflected that his father had “no soft, chewy center. [He was] hard as a stone all the way through.” That might have been true, if Mark hadn’t said what he said next. He off-handedly mentioned there was a book about his mother (and Gerry’s wife) Minnie Lee. “There may be some anecdotes about my Dad in there. Check it out. If I think of anything else I’ll give you a ring.” He gave me the name of the book and hung up.

Intrigued, I immediately Googled the book, “From Beaver Creek to Hanoi” by Cheryl Gillespie. [Note: it’s available on Amazon. I bought the Kindle version] As I began to read, I was floored. The man I had just talked with was a POW in the Vietnam War. His plane was shot down in 1968 and he remained in captivity for 4 years.

Mark’s story is incredible, and he’s exceedingly humble, but if the story of Gerry’s life is a hard candy, his wife’s incredible triumphs are the soft chewy center I was looking for. 

After receiving a letter from the US military in 1969 stating their son’s plane had been shot down, Gerry and Minnie assumed their son was dead. That is, until they got a letter from another family with a picture of some POW’s from the war and a familiar name scribbled on the Polaroid. One of the soldiers was Mark Gartley.

Now knowing her son was still alive, Minnie Lee embarked on an incredible journey to get him home. It would bring her in front of Congress, walking a tightrope between both proponents and protestors of the Vietnam War, and finally, behind the front lines of the war itself, against the Nixon administration’s counsel. I haven’t finished From Beaver Creek to Hanoi, but recommend it all the same. Also, spoiler alert: Minnie Lee Gartley was successful in bringing her boy home.

I thought this story was going to be about Gerry. When you get a lead, you never know the incredible places it can take you. All of these tips do have something in common, though: they all have their origin in the Moosehead Lake Region. In this case, some old sporting camps at Beaver Creek. 

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