Ernest Benjamin Gillis Family History

William Neil GILLIS[1, 2]

Male 1916 - 2013  (96 years)

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  • Name William Neil GILLIS  [3, 4
    Born 19 Jul 1916  Tracy, Lyon, Minnesota, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [3, 4, 5
    Gender Male 
    Address William Neil Gillis 
    307 Pike St. W.
    PO Box 146
    Osakis, Minnesota 56360 
    Fact 1 Fact 1 First Job: Worked on farm, $10/mo.  [3
    Fact 2 Fact 2 2nd Job: Worked in Pharmacy, $5/mo.  [3
    Fact 3 1935  [3
    Fact 3 Finished high school, Balaton, MN 
    Phone (320) 859-2678 
    Phone (320) 859-2678 
    _UID 74D53D803FBF447092E696E192F1B0E0BA70 
    Died 16 May 2013  Osakis, Douglas, Minnesota, USA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID I25  Ernest Benjamin Gillis
    Last Modified 25 Aug 2018 

    Father Ernest Benjamin GILLIS,   b. 11 Jul 1888, South Royalton, Windsor, Vermont, USA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 13 Mar 1976, Redmond, King, Washington, United States Of America Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 87 years) 
    Mother Della Mae EDWARDS,   b. 23 Oct 1895, Sioux City, Woodbury, Iowa, USA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1 May 1983, Snohomish, Snohomish, Washington, United States Of America Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 87 years) 
    Married 16 Jul 1914  Walnut Grove, Redwood, Minnesota, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [3, 4, 5
    • Ernest Benjamin Gillis was born on 11 Jul 1888 in South Royalton, Vermont. He died on 13 Mar 1976 in Kirkland, Washington. Ernest was the son of the Reverend William McNab Gillis and Mary Elizabeth Codville. He was one of five children ?   two boys (Ernest and William Hillery) and three girls (Winifred Martha, May Gertrude, and Edith Mabel).

      Photo of Ernest
      Ernest as a young boy
      At age of 3, his family moved from Vermont to Minnesota, where they lived in the town of Plainview for 5 years, then Pine Island 6 years, Fairmont 2 years, and Rushmore 1 year. The family moved often because Ernest's father, William McNab Gillis, was a Methodist Episcopal minister, and as such, would be assigned different churches.

      Photo of Ernest
      Ernest as a young adult
      Ernest began attending Worthington High School when he was a junior and graduated from there. All his life, he loved the land and working with soil, tending crops and growing things. Ernest enrolled in the University of Minnesota Farm School to became a farmer. After graduation, in the spring of 1908, he rented and farmed the old Andrew Clay Farm northeast of Amiret, Minnesota.

      Photo of Ernest
      Della and Ernest
      shortly after their wedding
      In the spring of 1911, Ernest moved south of Amiret to a half-section that he farmed as a bachelor until he married Della May Edwards. Della was helping in a store in Amiret at the time. They married in 1914 on July 16th, and the ceremony was performed by Ernest's father, William, in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in William's home.

      Photo of Ernest
      Ernie and Della's first farm
      Della was born on 23 Oct 1895 in Sioux City, Iowa, and died at her youngest daughter's home 01 May 1983 in Snohomish, Washington. Della was the daughter of Edward Edwards, a teamster, and Agnes Elizabeth Jardine.

      Photo of Ernest
      Grace and Neil in front of new house
      In the spring of 1924, Ernest and Della moved to a farm south of Tracy, MN. That fall they moved to the Kyle Farm, north of Tracy. In the spring of 1925, they rented the Curtis Farm. Later in March 1926, they moved to Balaton, Minnesota, where they remained the next 17 years.

      Photo of Ernest
      Ernest holding Grace
      Then in the fall of 1942, Ernest moved to Washington State, making a major change in his life and that of Della and the remaining children at home. He successfully found work out West thanks in part to the War effort and the many jobs in the Seattle area (such as the Boeing plant - aircraft construction etc.); and while there, he right away bought 5 acres of land in the town of Alderwood Manor, Washington, some 15 miles north of Seattle off Highway 99. He (of course) started fruit orchards, gardens, and began some farming while building a new home for his family. By this time, Ernest and Della had had 11 wonderful children, four of whom were still living at home and in July 1943, Della and their four girls who were still at home joined him via a long train trip. Once they arrived together in Alderwood Manor, the family lived in a cabin until the new home was ready for them to occupy.

      Photo of Ernest
      Ernest and Della, in MN
      Later on, in 1966 at age 78, Ernest completed a second home on the Alderwood Manor property, adjacent to the first home. He and Della moved into it and rented out the first one. This accomplishment of building a home at a somewhat advanced age -- much of it by his own hands -- speaks to the industriousness and tenacity of Ernest and his work ethic.

      Photo of Ernest
      Ernest and Della's 25th Anniversary
      House in Balaton, MN
      Over the years, Ernest and Della's home was often the site of many large family picnics and parties. Several of their younger childrens' weddings were held in their home. Many of their numerous grandchildren - some 56 total - can vividly recall spending days and days in the fields, climbing trees and eating fruit from the trees growing all over on the land. Their home was a wonderful place of gathering and family, a tradition not lost on their descendants.

      When Ernest was unable to keep up the land and home by himself in the 1970s, both the homes and land were sold, and he and Della then lived with family members. While Ernest eventually had to be cared for in a nursing home until his death in 1976, Della was fortunate in being able to live with her daughters in the Seattle area until her death in 1983. Both Ernest and Della are still missed to this day and are fondly remembered by all. [4, 5]
    Ernest & Della Gillis
    Ernest & Della Gillis
    Ernest & Della Gillis in MN
    Ernest & Della Gillis in MN
    Family ID F4  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Wanda Marie BROWN,   b. 6 Oct 1918, Saint Cloud, Stearns, Minnesota, USA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 20 Oct 1987, Osakis, Douglas, Minnesota, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 69 years) 
    Married 21 Dec 1941  Presb. Parsonage, Macalister College, St. Paul, MN Find all individuals with events at this location  [3, 4, 5
     1. Living
     2. Living
    Last Modified 23 May 2014 
    Family ID F90  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Photos
    Lakeside Cemetery, Osakis MN
    School Photo
    School Photo

    Life Story
    Life Story
    Neil's life story, printed in the Osakis Review
    Winter Lecture Series
    Winter Lecture Series
    "My Wonderful Life" presented by Neil as part of the Winter Lecture Series at the Osakis Information Center

  • Notes 
    • William graduated from Balaton High School.  He remembers in high school being on the winning basketball team that won a trip to the State track meet at the University of Minnesota Memorial Stadium in 1935, the year he graduated.

      William (Neil) attended Augsburg College for 1 year in 1935-36.  Later he attended University of Minnesota and enrolled in its college of pharmacy.  He graduated in 1943.

      Then Neil served in the Naval Reserve from October 1943 to December 21, 1945 (SN 8707541).  Neil was stationed at Farragut, Idaho and Great Lakes, Illinois; at Great Lakes Naval Air Station he worked on master of Arms; at Farragut, he ran the bowling alley and worked in pharmacy.

      Neil's first job was working on a farm for $10 a month; his second job was as a pharmacist for only $5 a month.

      After marrying Wanda in 1941, he raised his family in Osakis, Minnesota, where he established what turned into a successful Rexall Drug Store business for many years.  William served in the Navy in World War II.

      On 18 Jan 2009, Uncle Neil shared stories about his life and history of Osakis titled "My Wonderful Life" as part of the Winter Lecture Series at the Osakis Information Center. Although the event was not recorded, Information Center representatives report there was standing room only at the event. Neil wove together accounts of local community members, town history, and his own experiences. It is reported that a good time was had by all. Read about the event published 13 Jan 2009 in the Osakis Review and an earlier article on Uncle Neil's life story published 8 Jan 2008 by the same paper. [3, 4]
    • (Research): The Osakis Review - 01/08/2008 A lot can change in 65 year
      s. For a pharmacist, those changes are more numerous than the pills dispensed from his counter.
      At 91, Neil Gillis keeps up with the times and his lifelong career by maintaining his pharmacy license.
      Although he retired from full-time work as owner and pharmacist at Gillis Drug in Osakis in 1985, he still stops by to help whenever he's needed.
      His desire to continue working comes from the advice of his late wife, Wanda, who told him to get out every day, not to sit alone.
      Neil Gillis graduated from the University of Minnesota pharmacy school in March 1943.
      A young man from the small town of Balaton, he knew early on he wanted to become a pharmacist and did all he could to prepare.
      "I took all the science and math I could, all the prerequisites for college," he said. "Then I worked. I never borrowed a dime. I paid for all of my college myself, didn't owe anyone anything."
      The young man may have been prepared, yet his career plan didn't sit well with his mother.
      "Mother was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union," he said. "She cried when she found out I wanted to become a pharmacist, because they sold whiskey."
      Although Gillis wasn't, and has never been a drinker, he remembers well the role the pharmacy had in selling alcohol.
      The town doctor would stop by the Balaton drug store Saturday afternoons with a pad of signed prescriptions. Later the farmers came in and a prescription was filled out advising a half-pint of whiskey for John Smith Chickens or Joe Dokes Cow. It was completely
      legal, according to Gillis, and the farmers were grateful to pay the doctor 10 cents per signature.
      Undeterred from his dream, Gillis married, graduated, served in the Navy and worked in several big cities.
      "My friend from Sauk Centre said I should buy a drug store in Osakis," he said. "So I went one night and bought it. My wife cried."
      He bought Osakis Drug Company from Mrs. Clark, spending all the money he had.
      He came to Osakis on a Friday - May 1, 1949 - planning to work three days at the pharmacy and then take over the store Monday morning, operating with the money he had earned over the weekend.
      As Gillis explains it, he took in $89 that entire Friday - that much money came in the first hour in his Minneapolis store.
      "I had a little over $400 when I opened Monday morning," he said.
      The average prescription price was 50 to 60 cents in 1949 with Gillis filling about seven prescriptions a day.
      "Luckily I had a wonderful wife and we were used to living on $100 a week in the Twin Cities," he said. "We managed."
      Gillis also found ways to better serve his customers. He went to veterinary school as part of his continuing education.
      He learned the essentials of veterinary medicine and soon was his wholesaler's biggest veterinary account.
      Times were different then. Farmers brought their pigs into the pharmacy for medicine and Mrs. Ray Reinbold brought in her sick dogs for treatment.
      Gillis checked over the animals for free, simply charging for the medicine if it was needed.
      In his 35 years as owner of Gillis Drug he saw a number of changes to the business.
      In the 1950s he paid $46.50 for 100 count, 250 mg tetracycline. That price dropped to $5 per 100 when the U.S. government started buying the prescription drug from Italy and that was a good thing.
      Now, the government says don't buy from foreign countries - it might kill you.
      "I wish I'd kept track of how many of those foreign pills I dispensed in little Osakis, Minnesota and they never killed anyone," he said.
      Surprisingly, while a druggist by profession, Gillis questions people's desire to medicate.
      He remembers a woman who came in with a child who had an eighth-inch cut in her cheek asking for advice.
      The pharmacist recommended she buy a 5-cent butterfly bandage. The concerned mother decided to go to the emergency room where the doctor suggested she go to the drug store and purchase a butterfly bandage.
      While the business was small Gillis held true to his commitment to providing top service to his customers.
      One morning in the early days, Herm Bloom called Gillis' home at 5 a.m. asking him to come to his house, pick up a prescription, fill it and bring it back. When Gillis returned with the medicine and a bill for 95 cents, Bloom said, "Young man, you're going to go broke."
      "He was right," Gillis said. "All the wonderful people I had as customers and friends were what mattered and I'm still rich with those friendships."
      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

      Gillis to give winter lecture January 18
      By Stella Riley Bender, Contributing Writer, The Osakis Review Published Tuesday, January 13, 2009
      Neil Gillis has been a model Osakis citizen.
      The 60-year resident was for a long time the friendly pharmacist at the local drug store. He served as a volunteer on the school board and in the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Community Memorial Home and Presbyterian Church. He's been active on the town's golf course and in the bowling alley.

      Now 92 and mostly retired, Gillis will share stories from what he calls "My Wonderful Life" on Sunday afternoon, January 18 at 2.p.m. in the Osakis Information Center located downtown at 11 East Main Street.

      The event is free and open to the public. There will be time for questions and refreshments will be served.
      Gillis' talk is the first of three programs in Winter Lecture Series 2009, presented by the Osakis Area Heritage Center and funded by grants from Runestone Electric Association and Stearns County Electric Association.

      While still in high school Gillis knew he wanted to be a pharmacist. Although the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, he accomplished his goal at the University of Minnesota.
      The young pharmacist was managing a drug store in Minneapolis when he heard the one in Osakis was for sale. He and his late wife Wanda purchased the store in 1949, renamed it Gillis Rexall Drug, and operated the business until 1985 when it was sold to Gregg Anderson.
      In his Sunday afternoon talk, Gillis will tell stories about his experiences, with perhaps some surprises. While he will certainly recall the historic 1962 windstorm that damaged his drug store building, he may not talk about an earlier time when he was held up at gunpoint.
      Asked if he had any regrets, Gillis said, "Heavens, no. I married a wonderful woman, I lived in a wonderful town and I had a wonderful profession. I couldn't have done it any better if I'd dreamt of it first."

      Winter Lecture Series 2009 will continue February 22 with the sixth annual "Old-Fashioned Sunday Afternoon Musicale," featuring the Gordon Men's Chorus and guitarist Freddie Dean.
      For more information, call (320) 859-5161 or (320) 859-4151.

      ******* Obituary
      A Wonderful Life

      Neil Gillis was born on July 19, 1916 in Tracy, Minnesota. He was one of 11 children. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Pharmacy degree in March 1943. In 1941 he married Wanda Brown. After graduating from college Neil served in the United States Navy as a Pharmacist Mate from 1943-1945. Neil and Wanda moved to Osakis in 1949 where he owned and operated Gillis Rexall Drugs until he sold it in 1985. He maintained his Pharmacy license and continued to work as a fill in pharmacist until he turned 90.
      Neil and Wanda were married 46 years until her death in 1987. He is survived by their two children William and James, 6 grandchildren, 8 great-grandchildren, his beloved Lorraine Thompson, and countless friends.
      Neil was an active community leader serving on the Osakis Public School Board, for 9 years, 15 years on the Osakis Nursing Home Board, and 3 years on the Osakis Presbyterian Church Board. He began serving on the Douglas County Hospital Board when he was 85. He was chairman of the hospital board at age 94. Neil was also a member of the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce and the Masonic Lodge.
      Neil was an avid bowler, card player, storyteller, golfer, and fisherman. He loved music; all sports (especially the Golden Gophers, and the Minnesota Twins). He bought an iPad when he was 95 and was emailing to the West Coast and grandchildren in Minnesota and Istanbul, Turkey up until 2 days before he died. He mentioned several times he regretted waiting so long to use technology. He enjoyed politics and watched Sunday news shows. He watched them right up until the Sunday before he died and discussed them with visitors.
      He loved brownies, chocolate covered peanuts, Kemps ice cream and new cars (especially Chryslers).

      ++ tributes ++

      To the Family of Neil Gillis - Mr Gillis was a very fair kind employer. He gave me my first job when I was 13 yrs old. He worked around my sports schedule and school events. I was so surprised when I got my drivers license and he gave me his car keys to make a delivery to the nursing home. He was a trusting man! I wish you my deepest sympathy and know that he will be missed by many. Sincerely, Julie (Eldred) Juntunen
      Neil was my first Boss & was a wonderful one!! I worked for Neil 1976-1977 & enjoyed working for him very much! He taught me a lot! Neil was a good man & even as a little girl stopping in at "the drug store" on Sunday mornings after church was a regular thing like so many of our Osakis families. I have so many fond memories of a wonderful man & Osakis icon!!! Sincere sympathies to his family!! --Debbie Brouns Anderson - Osakis, MN
      Mr. Gillis or Neil will be greatly missed. I worked for him at Gillis Drug for approximately 3 years. He was a great teacher and taught me the art of merchandising and customer service.I also remember his famous comment to "How are you today?" and the response was, "Never as good as I am today." God, Bless you all. --Dawn Mielke McNeal - Osakis, MN
      Mr. Gillis was my first boss and taught me so much! I truely believe I am the "people person" I am today because of him. He was always so friendly to his customers. His famous phrases "I've never been so good as I am today" or when handing out our pay he would also ways say "don't spend it all in one place unless you spend it here". I often refer to Mr. Gillis with my children and sure wish they had the coaching and teaching I did when they first started working. RIP Mr. Gillis. --Karin Bangtson-Leisz - Katy, TX
      Mr Gillis was an icon here in Osakis. I remember the Indian outside the store-the fountain drinks-and his name on the building. When Jim and I became business owners and when Jim was on the school board it was Mr Gillis who came and patted us on the back or who Jim would ask advise from! He was a man who always had a smile and a how are you? and with the reply I have nver been better than I am today!!! Thank You for blessing our lives Mr. Gillis!! RIP! --Sharon Fearing - Osakis, MN
      To the Neil Gillis family, I have fond memories of Mr. Gillis as do lots of people who recall his days in the drug store. He was always smiling an very friendly. I remember being surprised he knew who I was the first time I went into the store. He always referred to people as Mr.,Mrs., or by your first name if you weren't married. He was a very supportive of Osakis, sports of all kinds. He is walking straight and tall with a big smile, someone everyone can be happy to have known. Many Blessing to all family and close friends who shared more of his life. --Kathy Edenloff [5]

  • Sources 
    1. [S92] Marchand GEDCOM 2009, compiled by Frederick J Marchand.

    2. [S112] Rogers: 2009 Gillis GEDCOM, compiled by Peter Rogers.

    3. [S2] Jim Marchand Gillis GEDCOM, compiled by F. J. Marchand [(E-ADDRESS) FOR PRIVATE USE\,].

    4. [S68] P. Rogers GEDCOM, compiled by Peter Rogers [(E-ADDRESS) FOR PRIVATE USE\,].

    5. [S89] Ernest Benjamin Gillis Family, Fred Marchand, (