A return 50 years in the making

by April Scheinoha

Cesar Sanchez Gonzales has a permanent reminder of his time as a foreign exchange student in Thief River Falls. He has a scar near his left eyebrow from the time he fell while learning to ski.

Cesar, who resides in Peru, recently returned to Minnesota to celebrate the 100th birthday of his American mother, Marian Gigstad. Marian now lives at Eventide in Moorhead, but Cesar also traveled to Thief River Falls to see his old haunts, meet with some classmates and see his friend Jeff Gustafson.

It was a trip 50 years in the making. Cesar lived here during the 1966-67 school year. “After 50 years, it seems time has gone a summer breeze,” said Cesar. “I remember things like it was yesterday.”

Cesar noted that Thief River Falls has grown since he returned to Peru. “It has changed a lot,” he said.

Thief River Falls isn’t the only thing that has changed. Lincoln High School seems like a new school. Principal Scott Brekke provided a tour of the school to Cesar; his wife, Maria; and Jeff. “I think the auditorium and gymnasium brought back the most memories,” Jeff said.

The three of them also journeyed to the Gigstads’ former home in Thief River Falls. Marian wanted to know if the home was as well kept as when Cesar lived there with her family. The group snapped some pictures outside of the home. Much to Jeff’s relief, the current owners didn’t come out of the home and wonder what they were doing there.

While studying here, Cesar lived with Marian; her husband, Klemens; and their son, Kurt. The Gigstad men have since passed away. It was through Kurt that Jeff met Cesar. Jeff was attending Northland College at the time, but he enjoyed spending time with many friends from the Lincoln High School Class of 1967.

“Cesar was a good guy,” said Jeff. Cesar responded that he is still a good guy. Jeff then noted that Cesar didn’t cause too much trouble for Marian and Klemens, unlike their biological son.

Their group of friends hung out at the bowling alley, where they played the jukebox. Fifty years later, Jeff still remembers asking Cesar what song he should play on the jukebox during one of their excursions. He thought Cesar said “Canada Dry.” It was actually “Kind of a Drag” by The Buckinghams. Oftentimes, the group would go to the Rex Cafe, where they would order French fries and Cherry Cokes.

Cesar also recalled attending dances. Kurt’s friends were in a band, and the two of them would tag along to listen to the music.

This trip brought back many memories for Cesar. Some were shared during an informal reunion with some of his classmates Thursday, Oct. 25 at River Walk Public House.

This trip came to fruition after Jeff and his cronies had a reunion this summer in Alexandria. They invited Cesar, but he realized it would be more special if he were in Minnesota to celebrate Marian’s 100th birthday with her. Ironically, Cesar’s biological mother is also 100.

Cesar has kept in contact with Marian, thanks to some assistance from her daughter-in-law, Susan. He has also kept in contact with Jeff and Mike Thompson, a former Thief River Falls resident who now lives in Georgia.

Jeff said, “He’s wanted to do this for a long time, and I’m so glad that you’ve been able to see Marian and make a side trip to Thief River for the day.”


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