The reddish granite slab is clearly marked “Gabriel Max Stern” with the dates of birth (1864) and death (1945) chiseled around a masonic symbol. Most recently, the stone was on top of a retaining wall that borders Brooks’ property, between a chainlink fence and a white picket fence. The stone migrated there from elsewhere in the yard next door to Brooks, and before that, lived in a garage of a house across the alley on Holly Street. The house next door recently changed hands. Brooks announced to her new neighbors: “This (stone) is leaving so don’t get used to it.” She thencontacted Whistleblower with the hope that Gabriel Max Stern’s tombstone could now go back home, wherever that is.
“I can’t stand it any more,” Brooks told me. “It’s like a wandering headstone. I just want it gone.”
We at Whistleblower began our investigation by contacting a longtime owner of the house next door to Brooks’, Betty Harri, who now lives elsewhere in St. Paul. She said she had nothing to do with putting it in her yard.
A search of the Minnesota Historical Society visual archives turned up some clues to the man behind the monument. A photograph from 1904 shows a prosperous looking family in front of a Victorian home, with the caption, “Dr. Gabriel M. Stern and family home, 1265 Como Boulevard, St. Paul.” Not exactly in Summit University, but not too far away.
The Whistleblower team’s Jane Friedmann found out more. A search of historical society records showed a death certificate was issued for Dr. Gabriel M. Stern on Jan. 4, 1945 in Ramsey County. Then Friedmann talked to Gary Odegard of the Masons’ Grand Lodge of Minnesota. Odegard filled in a number of the details: born in Romania, Stern was a medical doctor who became a mason in 1903, at the age of 38. He took the masonic degrees and became a master mason. He belonged to the Triune Lodge #190.
Given the stone’s history, however, he’s unlikely to have been buried in a yard in Summit University. Friedmann checked with several local cemeteries, but he wasn’t a tenant of any of them. But with the help of readers, Whistleblower has solved the mystery and the stone has returned to the descendants of Dr. Stern.
One reader, Lynda Hurt, was the first to find the fifnal resting place for Dr. Stern: Acacia Park Cemetery in Mendota Heights. She also combed the Census reecords, and found six children in the Stern household in 1910.
Dale Bachmeier, Acacia Park’s general manager verfied that Gabriel Stern is indeed designated with a marker, but with a bronze one, the only kind allowed in the cemetery.
But Dr. Stern died during World War II, when there was a prohibition against using metal for many non-war purposes. So for two years he had a granite marker, until it was replaced in June 1947 with the bronze one.
Bachmeier provided the final clue. Dr. Stern’s daughter Marie Wallinga lived at that time on Holly Street, diagonally across the alley from Patricia Brooks.
We contacted Wallinga’s son Jack V. Wallinga, 85, one of Minneapolis Children’s Hospital’s founding physicians, who grew up at the house on Holly Street. He has no recollection of the stone, but surmises, “it must have been taken and leaned up in a corner and not moved when we left the house.”
According to Brooks, she and her neighbors helped the subsequent owner on Holly Street with lawn chores. Eventually the garage was ordered torn down and it was at that time that the stone took up residence in her neighbor’s yard.
Would Jack Wallinga like to have the stone back? “Yes, we would like to relieve them of that burden.”
Patricia Brooks’ response: “Marvelous.”
The transfer occurred on Thursday afternoon. Jack Wallinga’s son David helped with the heavy lifting.
The future of the tombstone remains a mystery, however. Jack Wallinga lives in a high-rise. David Wallinga contemplated the possibilities: “I might find a nice place for it in my yard.”