“Gerry made people better people.”
“There aren’t many people in the world who’ve had a greater impact on me.”
“Gerry made everything around him better.”
These are just three of the thousands of similar comments we’ve received from family, friends and community members in the past two weeks since our hearts broke with Gerry Turenne’s death on June 1. The Big Guy, as he was affectionately called, was many things to many people: friend, voyageur, visionary, mentor, motivator, pioneer of the Festival du Voyageur and––most importantly––a loving husband, father and grandfather who would do anything for his family.
We have been overwhelmed by the incredible number of people who have reached out to offer condolences and share a story about Gerry. Even on short notice––the Big Guy didn’t let us know he was about to cross the “Last Portage”––nearly 1,000 of you came to his funeral. To continue the celebration of Gerry’s life, we’d like to share with you the eulogy Pit delivered about his dad, as well as a few stories from some of Gerry’s friends.
“The Big Guy committed his life to enriching his community,” Pit said, noting the various charities his dad generously supported and the countless people who cited Gerry as a key role model. “Despite all the good he did for his community, his true love was his family. His love for my mom was one of the most inspiring things you can witness as a kid. My sister and I won the lottery when it came to being born into a great family.”
Gerry be-friended Kris when he first moved to Winnipeg to play for the Jets. Later, when Kris was working with charities, Gerry offered the use of Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge to help Kris host fundraising charity trips. Kris fell in love with Aikens and became a regular.
“No matter how busy we were, Gerry and I would always find time to go out fishing one night just ourselves,” said Kris, noting that for all the times the duo played pool at Big Molly’s Bar he never once beat The Big Guy. “I’m a mad fisherman, but we’d get out on the lake and we’d be talking and we’d barely even fish. We’d talk about the kids and he’d ask about my family and we’d gab away into the dark.”
“One night Gerry let me drive the boat back to the lodge, but it was pitch black and I couldn’t see where to go. I didn’t want to say anything, but Gerry could tell I was nervous in the back channel, so he said, ‘OK, hot shot, I’ll take over.’ I was so glad to switch and let Gerry drive, but he never said a word to anyone back at the lodge. It was our little secret.”
Kris watched Pit grow up at Aikens, and started a tradition of wrestling with Gerry’s only son in the lake’s super cold water in the early morning hours. “Every year I’d get older, and Pit would get bigger and stronger,” Kris recalls, adding how proud Gerry was of Pit. “Gerry would stand up on the hill watching us and he would just giggle and laugh as we wrestled.”
Kris is bringing his wife to Aikens this summer, at her request, to celebrate her 50th birthday. “I can’t think of a better way to honor and remember Gerry than that, but the thing I’m going to have the hardest time with is not seeing him standing on the dock waiting to give me a big hug,” Kris said. “I will truly miss him.”
So will Dan Greteman, whose father first visited Aikens in 1953 and later introduced Dan to both the lodge and the Turennes. “Gerry was just an unbelievable guy, and I’m proud to say he’s about the best friend I ever had,” Dan said.
Dan marvels over Gerry’s creative problem-solving skills. Dan couldn’t talk his dad into getting a guide at Aikens, so he mentioned it to Gerry at Big Molly’s one night. “Gerry said, ‘I’ll take care of it,’” Dan recalls. “He walked over to my dad and said, ‘You and I are fishing together tomorrow out of my boat.’”
The Gretemans caught so many fish that day, they never went fishing again without an Aikens guide. “It was a great way to solve the problem because he never even said a word to my dad about maybe benefitting from getting a guide,” Dan said.
Whenever Gerry was in St. Louis, he would stay with the Gretemans. Their friendship also included a memorable wild boar hunting trip to South Texas. “I had a side-arm that Gerry fell in love with,” Dan recalls with a laugh. “Gerry did some target shooting with it and asked me, ‘Mind if I use this hunting tomorrow?’ Gerry put it on his hip that night, and I never saw that gun again until we all went home. Gerry probably slept with that thing.”
Gerry shared in the good times, but was also there for his friends in the tough times. When Dan’s father passed away, Gerry and the Turennes surprised Dan by creating a new shorelunch station in honor of Dan’s father. When Dan visited Aikens the first time after his father’s death, his guide took to him to the new shorelunch spot without saying a word. “They had a fire already going, table clothes and linens set out, silverware and buckets of beer on the table,” Dan recalls. “Then Gerry and Lorraine show up, and I started crying and Gerry said, ‘Don’t cry, your dad’s here, too.’ I’ve got the picture of that day on my fridge right now.”
When Dan’s wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Gerry would call regularly to ask how she and Dan were holding up. That’s what touched Dan the most. “Gerry didn’t have to do that,” Dan said. “Most people don’t call because they don’t know what to say. But it made my day whenever Gerry would call during that turmoil, and he called the day after my wife died and it meant the world to me.”
Gerry also made a big impression on Rob Jounot, a close family friend whose father went to high school with Gerry. “Gerry was a father figure to me,” said Rob, who worked at Aikens for many summers. “In a lot of ways, he was a father figure to many of us who worked there. He made me a better person, and it’s amazing that he had a similar effect on so many other people as well just by being himself.”
Rob fondly remembers Gerry’s direct but low-key disciplinary style if one of the young guys working at Aikens did something stupid the night before––which Gerry would invariably find out about.
“Hey Rob, how’s it going?” Gerry would ask first-thing the next morning.“Oh, good,” Rob would say, knowing where this was headed.“So I guess we know what happened last night, huh?” Gerry would say.“Yup.” Rob said.“Well, I guess that’s never going to happen again, right?”“Yup,” Rob said.
“He’d always point things out in private without giving you hell, and he’d never yell at you or embarrass you in front of the other guys,” Rob recalls. “And honestly, you’d think about it the rest of the day, and you didn’t want to have too many of those conversations with Gerry.”
In his later years, Gerry became one of the last of his generation and did a lot of hunting with Rob, Pit and that younger generation. “You’d sit in the bush with Gerry and learn stuff from him all day,” Rob said, marveling at Gerry’s memory. “Gerry remembered every moose ever killed in the area––he remembered the temperature, every stat about the moose, everything that happened in the days leading up to it.”
“I guess what I’ll remember is Gerry’s smile,” Rob said.
We’ll all remember different things about Gerry, and we are so thankful to all of you who have shared your memories and stories with us. It means a lot.
We will remember, honor and do our best to make The Big Guy proud.
The Big Guy was a mover and a shaker; his death has been felt by many. We’re honored by all the glowing tributes people across Canada and the U.S. have created for Gerry.
Click here to listen to a Gerry tribute from the Hustler and Lawless Radio show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg.