Woodwork of “neighborhood grandfather” celebrated


Marty Gerr and his dog, Trinket, who was one of his first visitors after he got out of surgery to remove a mass from his lung. (Alex Holmquist / Review)

Marty Gerr’s woodshop is filled with tools. “If Marty doesn’t have it, you probably don’t need it,” he chuckles. (Alex Holmquist / Review)

Marty Gerr cut the ribbon at the official grand opening ceremony for his neighborhood’s Little Free Library, which he handcrafted himself. (submitted photo)

Neighbors say the Little Free Library is filing up quickly with books, and children of all ages are making use of it. (submitted photo)

Marty Gerr’s neighbors say his work shines, just like his personality

Alex Holmquist
news editor

On some nights, all of Jerrold Avenue in Arden Hills is lit up thanks to Marty Gerr’s handiwork.

Marty recalls his daughter driving him home from one of his many hospital stays during the past year, and seeing every one of the solar light holders he’d carved for each of his neighbors shining brightly in the night.

Marty, an avid wood carver, has carved many clever little contraptions in his basement woodshed over the years. In addition to the 65 solar light holders he passed out to neighbors, friends and family members, he’s built broomholders, toys for neighborhood kids, whistles and most recently, a Little Free Library for his neighborhood.

And Marty isn’t just known to his neighbors for crafty woodwork -- but also for his kind heart.

“He lights up the neighborhood both literally and figuratively” said neighbor Deb Lane, who, along with her daughter Rachel, asked Marty to build the Little Free Library a few months ago.

“It will be something that will be available for many years even after he’s gone,” Deb said of the library.

Marty, who will turn 90 next month, faced a devastating blow to his health after a fall on the ice late last year. After falling, Marty still had pain in his chest several days later, and decided to go to his doctor to see if he’d injured his ribs. 

What the doctor found was worse -- a mass on his left lung. And after having surgery in February to remove the mass and 27 radiation treatments, Marty said he was told what to expect.

“The doctor told me I am dying of lung cancer,” Marty explains, noting that despite this prognosis he has plans to live every day to the fullest. “Now, I have no more pain,” he adds.

The “neighborhood grandfather”

Deb said even after Marty’s diagnosis, she continues to be impressed by his positive attitude and continued generosity toward his neighbors.

“He’s like the neighborhood grandfather and handyman, just the friendly neighbor you always want,” Deb said, describing how Marty will always chat with his neighbors as they pass by his yard, give them advice on home improvement projects, and lend them tools from his own supply.

Deb notes Marty took it upon himself to plow her driveway for many years when Deb first moved into the neighborhood by herself. Her husband now takes care of the job, she explains, but Marty has always helped out other neighbors -- plowing their snow, cutting their grass, sharpening their lawnmower blades and knives, and with other tasks as well.

Marty and his wife Mary, who have been married nearly 60 years, moved into their current home on Jerrold Avenue in 1955. Marty worked for a coffee company for 19 years before being hired by the Mounds View School District as a custodian, and later as the manager of a warehouse where the district kept its supplies.

He retired from his job with the school district in 1986 and did some side jobs after that, but has spent a great deal of his free time helping his neighbors.

“If you can, why not help people?” Marty said of his desire to serve others.

Marty and Mary are also loved by the neighborhood children.

Neighbor Laura Bateman and her husband moved to the neighborhood 12 years ago, and Laura noted her 10 -year-old daughter and 11-year-old son view Marty as a grandfather figure.

“We moved in before they were born so they’ve really grown up with him being there,” Laura explained. Her son even goes over to the Gerr’s home after school for a snack and pop before Laura and her husband return from work.

And the neighborhood children have tried to return Marty’s generosity in certain ways as well. Marty, who used to take his dog for long walks on all the trails in the neighborhood, can no longer manage that feat. So now, Laura and Deb’s daughters take the Gerr’s dog, Trinket, for walks as much as possible.

“I think he has just tied our neighborhood together even intergenerationally,” Laura said.

A special grand opening

Deb said she and her daughter, Rachel, were thrilled after they approached Marty with the idea of the Little Free Library and he agreed to make it.

“He did a great job putting it together,” Deb said.

Marty said he and his daughter Gerri had a fun time making the library together, and that he was blown away by all the people who showed up to the grand opening ceremony for the library last month.

“That Sunday was wonderful,” Marty said.

Marty had the honor of cutting the ribbon at the Little Free Library’s grand opening cermony, which was well attended despite gloomy weather. Deb added that when she passed out flyers to the neighbors, one neighbor commented to her that “there will never be another neighbor like Marty.”

“I think he’s just a neighbor that everybody should have,” Deb said. Marty says despite the obstacles with his health, he plans on getting back to work in his basement woodshop soon.

“I’m going to get back down there,” Marty said with a smile.

Alex Holmquist can be reached at aholmquist@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813.

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