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People of Faith: Gary DeFosse

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On Saturday mornings Gary DeFosse, 82, visits his local YMCA. Three times a week he swims or lifts, and he presently serves as a lifeguard.

“The Y doesn’t have as many lifeguards as they need, so I volunteered,” he said. “They said my age doesn’t matter if I can complete the requirements. So far, I’ve been able to do everything they need me to do.”

Gary’s reputation is of being someone who brings others joy and who is, himself, joyful. It’s not because he is overly jovial, but because he’s certain and positive. What you see is what you get, and what you get is a man committed to goodness, service and simplicity.

After a swim, he heads home to do odd jobs around the house and enjoy the day with his wife, Linda. Married 53 years, he is uniquely suited to share, in a simple answer, his wisdom on a lasting marriage: “We feel really blessed with what we have,” he began, “and we go to Mass together.”

Gary and Linda faithfully attend Mass on Sundays and a few times during the week, bringing themselves and each other into the physical presence of God. Add gratitude for their life to their frequent Communion, and abiding love has been the consistent result.

Gary continued, “She’s such a great person and she kept us together.” Linda has a servant’s heart and gives of herself generously for their parish, St. Michael the Archangel in Ripley. Both are happy to be involved at the church where Gary grew up.

Born in a downtown Ripley house in 1940, Gary expressed gratitude for his devout Catholic parents, “They set a strong example.” A dedicated altar server, he volunteered as often as he could. “That was something special,” he remarked. “Being so close to what was happening, ringing the bells and bringing the water and wine to the priest. I watched the priest closely.” These memories are among the primary joys of his life.

Joining the Marine Corps, he was plucked from his Ohio River village and sent across the Pacific for a four-year tour in the 1960s. He spent time in Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines, and his service coincided with Vietnam. “We never did see hand-to-hand combat,” Gary said, “but we were ready in case they needed us.”

Although hard work in logistics filled his schedule, he was assigned to Temporary Additional Duty—playing basketball. He and a handful of fellow Marines were assigned to play regularly, including against the Taiwan Olympic basketball team.

“We were practice,” he chuckled. “Their team was huge, but they couldn’t jump two inches off the floor!” This was a highlight of his tour, with a bonus of attending the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. After his four years, Gary headed home with a stronger sense of duty and service that yields fruit to the present day. He serves on the honor guard for local funerals and, after teaching himself the violin at 60, plays it during Sunday Mass.

Recently Gary took an Honor Flight, a trip offered to veterans who don’t have easy access to the war memorials in Washington D.C. An assigned guardian flies to D.C. with the veteran to walk him through the memorials. Molly Gallagher, Gary’s guardian, felt privileged to spend the day learning not only about his wartime service, but who he is. They quickly bonded and still see each other often.

“He and Linda are like family now,” Gallagher said happily. In awe of Gary, she specifically mentioned his humility. “He’s deeply proud of his family and how they’re living,” she said. After the Marines, Gary and Linda married and raised a family. Their son and daughter grew up to raise families of their own, each solid in the Catholic faith.

And this, even though Gary drifted from the faith as a young man. “In the Corps, I lost touch and didn’t have the opportunity or the desire to go to Mass, but then you get your stuff together and realize how important it is.”

By God’s grace and Gary’s return to the faith, he now shares it willingly with anyone, from strangers to his barber.

Saturday morning, Gary went to the Y, spent time with his wife and checked off some to-dos. This may not seem remarkable to some, but Gary’s life has been marked by a steady flow of dedication, humility, service to others and devotion to the Lord. Those things, and his joyful pursuit of life, continue to be an inspiration to those around him.

This article appeared in the December 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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