Willow River Days this weekend
Louie Gerard named grand marshal
Not many people are able to say they have danced in Hollywood, served our country, traveled to all of the states and had been married for more than 50 years. Louie Gerard, a small-town boy who grew up in Willow River, is able to tell stories about all of it. His experiences and time serving our country make him a perfect selection for this year’s Willow River Area Days grand marshal.
Gerard was born in 1924 to Louis and Eva Gerard. He was raised on an 80-acre farm of sorts along with five siblings. In his early years, Gerard played with friends, fought with siblings, bathed on Sundays and made it to high school. In high school he participated in football, basketball and track.
“I ran the mile, did high jump, shot put, just about everything. However, I was always second best on the team and I was determined to beat my buddy. In the long run, I did,” Gerard recalled. He graduated from Willow River High School in 1942, and then received “greetings from Uncle Sam.”
Gerard served in the U.S. Army Air Force from July 6, 1943, to February 19, 1946. His rank was sergeant. He attended 10 hours of flight training in Piper Cubs in Montana, basic training at Lincoln Army Air Field in Nebraska, advanced training at Santa Ana Army Air Base in California, and he was assigned to aircraft mechanics in Amarillo, Texas.
He attended the Boeing B-17 factory school in California, where he qualified as an aerial engineer and top turret of a “Flying Fortress,” and later served at the Las Vegas Army gunnery school in Nevada.
Gerard’s time in the service created a multitude of stories to be told. There was a time for seriousness but also a little bit of time for a laugh or relaxation.
Gerard remembered his first Christmas away from home. “I sat in the governor’s mansion eating chocolate and listening to music.”
The day he surprised his mother on Mother’s Day by hitchhiking back home was worthwhile because his mother was so excited she almost fainted.
He recalled the numerous dances he went to, some even in Hollywood. “There was one dance I went to that the girls had ration books for the number of dances they were allowed to have with the men,” he said with a chuckle.
“The nurses’ parties were the best. The women paid for everything because the service men couldn’t afford anything.” During one of these parties, Gerard met his future wife, Maxine Chram.
In 1949, Gerard married Chram, a registered nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital. He went to college at the University of Minnesota Duluth where he studied business. Out of his four roommates, he was the only one to graduate.
“Maxine forced me to work hard, and I was happy I married a level-headed woman.”
He became a life insurance agent and joined the fire department in 1955. He worked as an emergency medical technician for 33 years with the fire department. Gerard had two children with Maxine — Mike and Cass. They were raised in Duluth and hold very active lives with their own children now. Gerard has five granddaughters and two grandsons, and he is proud to say there are three registered nurses in his family today.
The greatest memories Gerard has are from his travels. Gerard has been to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, walked across the Mississippi, visited Edison’s museum and other major landmarks in each of the states.
His two favorite travel memories were with the people he loved. Gerard and his brother were known for their mischievous behavior. When they traveled to a hot spring together, a friend snapped a picture and commented, “Two farm boys being good.” He also loved the times that he traveled to the North Shore with Maxine for powwows. “Each trip was a blast and I will never forget the time I spent at each celebration.” Maxine passed away 11 years ago and Gerard still won’t forgive her for leaving him without a dance partner.
Over the years, Gerard has served our country, explored the U.S. and danced many nights away. Today he is honored to be named the grand marshal of Willow River Area Days. “I feel very lucky that my hometown chose me to be named as grand marshal.” Gerard is excited for this year’s celebration and will most likely be found doing the foxtrot.