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Pulling his weight: Cottage Grove's Gerlach recognized for fair, 4-H support

Gerald Gerlach accepts the Outstanding Senior Citizen award July 31 at the Washington County Fair. The emcee of the ceremony was Dan Dolan, president of the Washington County Agricultural Society. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)1 / 2
Gerald Gerlach accepts congratulations from great-granddaughter Isabelle, 5, after receiving the Outstanding Senior Citizen award. Isabelle and her brother Breck, 1, were there with their grandmother, Lori Swanson, and her husband, Gary. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)2 / 2

He may be retired, but Gerald Gerlach has hardly slowed down.

Gerlach, 79, of Cottage Grove, was honored Friday with an Outstanding Senior Citizen Award at the Washington County Fair.

The award is given annually to one woman and one man. Emilie Carson of Stillwater was the female recipient.

“I’ve never thought of myself as a senior citizen,” Gerlach told the crowd, which included four generations of his family, including his wife, Marge, and great-grandchildren Isabelle Swanson, 5, and Breck Fewer, 1.

“It was such a nice turnout,” his daughter Lori Swanson said. “I didn’t think there would be this many people.”

“Volunteering keeps you young,” Gerlach said.

Swanson, who nominated her father for the award, said she knew she would have to convince him to accept.

“I didn’t want to blow my horn too much,” Gerlach said.

A businessman, veteran, Lions club member, great-grandfather and “hobby farmer,” he’s spent most of his life in Cottage Grove running Gerlach Service, Inc., a farm equipment dealership. His father, Edward, started the business in 1952. Gerlach took over after serving in the army. The business is now run by his son, Randy.

Son Ron owns Gerlach Outdoor Power Equipment on Highway 61 near Hastings. Most of their business consists of selling tractors, mowers and other equipment for use by homeowners or professional landscapers.

When the Washington County Fair needed all-terrain vehicles, tractors or other equipment, they could count on Gerlach to loan them some of his stock.

“He’s just kind of an out and out nice guy,” fair manager Dorie Ostertag said. “I wish him many more years.”

Gerlach served as president of the Cottage Grove Lions Club, which he joined in 1980. He was also recipient of the Lion of the Year Award and a Helen Keller Award for sight preservation through his work to raise money for the University of Minnesota Eye Bank.

“He’s still an active member,” Lions Club president Erik Witt said. “He still attends meetings and club functions.”

Gerlach also helps out at the Lions’ Santa and Easter Bunny breakfasts. He has lent equipment from his business to pull floats in the Strawberry Fest and Monster Bash parades.

“There’s a lot of weekends I’d rather be golfing or fishing or something else, but there was always a parade to be in, or a piece of equipment that had to be there,” he said.

He’s also a big supporter of the 4-H program.

“I had four different grandchildren that went through 4-H,” he said. The kids learned animal husbandry by raising and caring for various steers, pigs and sheep, which they showed at the Washington County Fair, of course.

“The kids show ‘em and then they have an auction,” he said. “They sell them afterward.”

To make sure his grandchildren got a fair price for their animals, Gerlach usually was the high bidder.

“Of course grandpa’s got to buy the animals,” he quipped. “I gave them back. Keep ‘em in the family. I think there was over 50 years buying 4-H animals.”

Gerlach also served in the Cottage Grove Fire Department and sat on the city’s Public Works Commission. He also was president of the Minnesota-South Dakota Implement Dealer Association.