Dick Garbisch ’38

A Hundred Years In

By as told to Kayla McGrady ’05

A guy sees a lot when he lives to be 100. Dick Garbisch ’38 was among the first American soldiers to land in Japan in 1945, following the bombing of Nagasaki. Right after college, he joined his father as a partner at Maple Dale Hatchery, which collected eggs from local farmers, incubated and hatched them, and shipped the chicks by passenger rail to farmers nationwide. He and his first wife, Marjorie Crabb Garbisch ’39, built a vacation home in Key Largo, Florida, in 1968, when his neighborhood, Ocean Reef Club, was so small that all the residents would gather in one home for Easter brunch. Today there are more than 1,500 houses and condos in the neighborhood.

Having just celebrated his 101st birthday, Garbisch looks back on the years that, he says, have “flown by.”

Dick Garbisch ’38

Born: May 8, 1916, in Austin, Minnesota

Education: 1938 BA in geology, Carleton College

Military service: 1945 enlisted in U.S. Navy, supply officer with the 98th Construction Battalion

Career: 1938–68 partner in Maple Dale Hatchery, Austin, Minnesota

Carls in the family: First wife, Marjorie Crabb Garbisch ’39, who died in 1998, and their four children: Marlou Johnston ’64, Marilyn Carlson ’66, Marsha Harbison ’67, and Thomas Garbisch ’71. Garbisch and his second wife, Audrey, together have five grandchildren who attended Carleton: Charles Johnston ’92, Nancy Johnston Mitalski ’92, Colby Carlson ’97, Christopher Harbison ’99, and Sarah Graham ’07.

Achievements: 1938, founded Ten Mile Lake Yacht and Tennis Club in Hackensack, Minnesota; 1976, founded the Ocean Reef Racquet Club in Key Largo, Florida; 1998, inducted into Carleton’s ‘C’ Club Hall of Fame for swimming; 1999, awarded the William Carleton Medal; 2002, inducted into Carleton’s Founders Court

It never occurred to me that I’d get to 100. It snuck up on me. My memories are all there, but not many of my friends are left.

I followed a friend, David Crane ’35, from Austin High School to Carleton. I majored in geology because of Larry Gould, who was then head of the department. I admired that man so much. I never used my major in my career, but I benefited extremely from going to Carleton because it opened up my eyes to a lot of things.

After I got my Navy commission, my unit was attached to the Fourth Marine Division, which had just come back from invading Iwo Jima. They were getting replenished with new recruits for all the men they’d lost there, and we all took combat training together for the invasion of Japan. We were loading our ships when the bombs were dropped. And they said, “Well, as long as you’re loaded, you’re going over anyway.” So we were the first ones into Japan [after the war].

We landed at Sasebo, which had been firebombed, and it was absolutely devastated. They hadn’t even removed the bodies from the debris. Both the firebombing in Sasebo and the nuclear blast down in Nagasaki were horrible. Nobody told us to stay away or about danger from radioactivity, but I never suffered any ill effects from being in the area. I feel like a bit of a fraud when I talk about my Navy service because I had an easy time compared to what I saw others go through.

Amazingly, when I was overseas, I bumped into someone from Carleton everywhere I went. As a supply officer, I had my own jeep, and one time I was out exploring the boondocks of Japan—which was kind of stupid—and I came across another jeep. Inside was Gordy Riegel ’39, an MD from the Fifth Marine Division!

At that time there was an all-out united feeling that everybody was helping the country pursue its goals, completely different from what we have now.

My dad was a pioneer in the commercial chicken hatchery business. We shipped baby chicks—within 24 hours of hatching—into about 40 states. We advertised on 40 to 50 radio stations and in a number of magazines. It was a fun business to be in. I started doing odd jobs and driving delivery trucks in high school, and even when I became a partner, I still did a little bit of everything. It was seasonal work, because farmers only wanted chicks February through June. During the off-season, we got to spend a lot of time on the lake. It was a wonderful life.

The biggest technological advancement for me was probably television—not only for entertainment, but also for our business. We were already in on the ground floor of radio advertising as the first client to place advertising on [Minneapolis-based] WCCO Radio through an agency, and we got into television advertising right away, too.

Businesses like mine don’t exist anymore. The farmers we worked with were diversified. They kept some chickens in the barnyard, and the egg money was a little something extra for them. Nowadays big corporate farms keep thousands of chickens in cages and have all the equipment to do the hatching themselves. We sold [our business] not long before that shift started happening, and Maple Dale closed only a few years after I retired.

I wish I could do without the computer. That machine is the doggonedest frustrating thing when it goes on the blink. But it’s great for staying in touch. We’re in constant touch with all our kids with e-mail, but I appreciate the phone calls more. I enjoy hearing their voices.

I regret having to give up tennis and sailing. But I still enjoy going to the Ocean Reef Racquet Club—which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year—and watching my younger friends play tennis. When I’m up north on the lake, I go out on the pontoon boat now.

One of the best things about my age? People open doors for me now! It works to my advantage, especially going through airport security. They really usher me through fast there.

I bought a new Cadillac on my 100th birthday. The dealer said he’d never sold a new car to a 100-year-old man before. They had me out there taking pictures with the salesman and everything. I think buying that car showed a little optimism on my part. 

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