Emily Welker, Published December 08 2013
Chet Gebert, member of Forum’s Pulitzer-winning team, dies at 86
Then again, he might very well have been using them, almost until the very end.
“I remember him always having them out – he would always take notes,” she said.
Chester “Chet” Gebert, 86, a longtime Forum reporter and photographer, died here Saturday, one of the team that covered the historic 1957 tornado for the paper’s only Pulitzer Prize.
Stephens was just a year old the night her father put her, her older sister, Valerie, and her mother in the basement of their home and went out to take pictures of the devastation left by the killer twister.
“My mom wasn’t really pleased about that one,” she chuckles.
She also recalls a visit with her father years after he retired from professional writing, on a trip with him to the Hjemkomst Center.
Gebert was the Forum reporter who followed the journey of the replica Viking ship, the Hjemkomst, all the way from its genesis in builder Robert Asp’s brain to its eventual entry into the harbor of Bergen, Norway, in July 1982.
Stephens had forgotten, until that moment, that her father had been so involved in the ship’s journey, and that of Asp, who died half a year before its Norway voyage.
“My dad just had a big heart for people’s dreams,” she said.
Among his other stories was that of a chat over breakfast with Gerald Ford, nine years before the then-minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives stepped in to take over running the country from disgraced President Richard Nixon.
His fellow reporter Mikkel Pates recalled how Gebert used to give the new reporters his “oddball” tour of the city he loved – including the water treatment plant, the sewage plant and the landfill.
“He was somebody who had a great exuberance for being a reporter,” Pates said.
Stephens said her father never stopped having adventures, even after he stopped writing about them for The Forum.
He traveled to Australia, New Zealand, China and Mexico with his second wife, Sharon, and throughout the U.S., including Alaska, often in a recreational vehicle the couple owned.
His wide-traveling habits were lifelong ones. Gebert hitchhiked across the U.S. from the East Coast to the West Coast at 17.
“My dad was the coolest dad ever. … (To him) everyone has a story and no one was a stranger,” Stephens said.
He would often come home from his travels having made a lifelong friend on the other side of the world, she said.
But for all his adventures, he never lost sight of the people in his stories who had opened the doors of adventure to him.
Throughout his retirement, Pates said, Gebert collected the hundreds of story photos he’d taken and mailed them to the families of the people in the stories, because he knew they would value them.
“He would end every conversation with ‘thank you kindly,’ ” said Pates.
“Humorous, loving, nonjudgmental … always had a sense of humor,” said Stephens. “He knew he was dying. Someone would come in and he couldn’t sit up. (He) would say, ‘Am I dead yet?’ ”
Stephens’ father lost his wife in 2010 and leaves behind Stephens, her older sister and her younger sister, Peggy.
Stephens was with him when he died, and said the hardest part was that the old storyteller was having a hard time articulating much.
“But he could still say, ‘I love you,’ ” she said, her voice crumbling into tears.
The family plans to gather at Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home on Saturday for what Stephens said would be a celebration of her father’s life – an adventure that she thinks he is probably continuing, wherever he is.
“He’s writing a story now, where he is,” she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541