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 “If you think you have everything mastered, you have quite a lot to learn yet.”
- Dale Gingerich

 

Dale Gingerich: Sweet Dream Builder

By Susan Cantrell

The first time I laid eyes on Dale Gingerich it was in my bedroom. Rest assured, he was a perfect gentleman. His gentle ways, smile crowned by glacier blue eyes and a halo of white hair, made me completely at ease as he and his assistant strained and twisted, trying to maneuver a huge wooden sleigh bed around my miniscule bedroom. In fact, they had put it together for me – far above and beyond the call of duty for two men delivering the mattress I had just purchased from Gingerich’s Monterey Mattress Company, which Dale has owned for 21 years.

I hadn’t seen him again until I recently negotiated with his son, Brian, vice president and co-founder, who had invited me to interview his father as part of a trade for a new bed.

It didn’t take much coaxing after I lay on a sumptuous latex mattress. My spring mattress was no longer desirable to me. I was spoiled for life.

Thus, I met Dale again while rolling around on beds in their showroom in Sand City. He hadn’t aged a whit. And his shy and dry sense of humor was still intact. I knew, however, that it would be like pulling teeth to coax a story out of this modest man, whose Iowan roots grow long and deep.

When the day came, sunshine was aplenty and the Carmel home he shares with his wife, Ruth, was pretty as a picture framed by flowers. I could see that the sure hand of a carpenter had recently updated the wooden abode.
Dale ushered me in and admitted that he had knocked out walls, built the white craftsman-style cabinetry in the kitchen and a multitude of other upgrades.

“I’m a doer by nature,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been accused of being a workaholic.” In fact, he had barely made it to the interview on time, citing a broken sewing machine, a truck full of mattresses to unload and a stream of phone calls. At 72, he’s still working overtime. “It would be nice to get down to a 40 hour week.”

Somehow, I suspected he wouldn’t know what to do with something called retirement. We sat at the dining table, wind chimes tinkling outside, Dale in a plaid blue shirt and Navy cotton pants. I was pleased at his responsiveness to my questions. He was, indeed, willing to open his mental closets.  Farmer, carpenter, and entrepreneur; as his life story unraveled, it was clear that he puts his whole heart into every one of his endeavors.

Questions and Answers

Q: Describe your upbringing.
A: I was born in Wellman, Iowa, to a country farmer. Our main crop was corn and soy, beans, oats and hay. We had horses, dairy cows and cattle. It was a small farm and had a little bit of everything you needed, so we only went to town once a week. In those days, we traded surplus for what you needed. I went to a country school, and the joke is – it was two miles up hill both ways. (Laughs) There were dirt roads and no electricity.

Q: And an outhouse?
A: Oh, yes. I tell my kids I was born more in Abe Lincoln’s time. We did have a telephone: a party line with 13 people on it. This was before TV.

Q: Was it fun?
A: I wouldn’t trade it for a kid’s life nowadays. I spent a lot of time outdoors; I fished and was a sportsman. Being the only boy with three sisters is probably why I spent a lot of time outdoors. (Chuckles) I enjoyed building things and have ever since. I built my own toys – tractors, wagons, hay balers, birdhouses – and sold them to the neighbor kids.

Q: Is building in your genes?
A: My granddad did some carpentry. My sons tell me I was born with a natural talent for woodworking.

Q: Would you call yourself an inventor?
A: Living out in the country, seven miles from town, you were your own mechanic, fence builder, etc.

Q: How computer savvy are you?
A: Not very. I do check the Internet for weather when I want to go out sport fishing . . . I go as far out in the bay as 40 miles and bring in albacore, salmon, etc.

Q: You grew up in the Mennonite faith. Are you still Mennonite?
A: Ruth and I went to Mennonite church for about a year, and then we moved to town and went to the United Christian and Baptist church . . . I tell people, “You should live every day and not feel that going to church one day a week (makes you a saint). What you are is what you should be seven days a week.

Q: How far did you go in school?
A: I started working young. I was going to go to Alaska, and then I met Ruth, and it took 40 years to finally get there (on our cruise). I studied very little but I consider myself educated. I learned what I wanted to learn and what interested me. I didn’t see the need to spend time in school. I enjoyed math because that was an easy one. I went through eighth grade and then I started business. I did take some high school correspondence. My parents always let me make my own decisions on anything.

Q: They sound very special.
A: My parents were kind and loving.

Q: What did you miss out on?
A: I can’t look at it that way. Some things I didn’t do until later on like travel, because my parents or grand parents didn’t travel. But I had a great grandfather who wintered in California from Iowa every year. Several generations are buried in a cemetery in Iowa.

Q: In what ways were you privileged?
A: To make my own decisions. My parents thought I knew better from worse, and I’d do what was right. They trusted me.

Q: Can you recall one of your first paying jobs?
A: One of my first jobs was when I was 14 and I wood-shingled a large turkey house. Later, the farmer built a new house and hired a contractor, who hired me. There were older contractors and they didn’t receive it that well. I helped build several houses; I got to do cabinet work, hang doors, etc. I did it until I went into the service.

Q: I thought Mennonites are pacifists?
A: As a Mennonite youth, you register for the draft, but you go as a conscientious objector and serve time, usually, in hospitals, etc.

Q: And that set the scene for your meeting the love of your life?
A: It was in Evanston, Illinois. I started working in the kitchen and soon got into engineering, maintenance and special building projects at the hospital. I also remodeled a couple houses on the sideline, built kitchens, and then worked for a manufacturing firm.

Q: And it was in this scenario that you met your soul mate, Ruth, now your wife of one-half century?
A: Yes. (Chuckles) And my boss got jealous when I wanted to go on a date. He wanted me working every night. She was working at the hospital and we met in a tunnel between buildings. We were both going different ways, and after we passed, we both turned around and looked at each other. . . .

Q: How romantic.
A: I actually knew of her. At first, she set me up with a date with a friend of hers. But that only lasted for a couple dates. (He shows me the recent anniversary news photo featuring Ruth and him: today and 50 years ago.)

Q: Wow! You had a buzz cut.
A: Oh, yes. They called me flat top.

Q: When you two quarrel, what’s it about?
A: We try not to quarrel much.

Q: Instead, you have two sons and three daughters, right?
A: Yes. Ruth was in high school when I dated her. Her parents insisted she be 19 before we married, so we married the day after her birthday. She doesn’t like to celebrate them together, though.

Q: She sounds like an amazing woman, securing her nursing degree while nursing five children.
A: And then she got her masters (Beaming). It took 10 years and then she taught nursing at the University of Iowa for several years.

Q: What were you doing for a living at that time?
A: I had a building business, contracting with my brother-in-law. That was in ’57 and we were together until ’73. While we lived in town, the kids had Amish nannies. Then I bought a farm between Wellman and Kalona. On my farm, I had 100 beef cows. I also bought Holstein dairy calves and my kids bottle fed 50 of them one summer . . . I kept doing building and working the farm, while Ruth was traveling all over the county as a pediatric nurse practitioner.

Q: So, how did you get into the bed business?
A: Brian was already living out here. He had bought a mattress company for his brother- in-law in Iowa. The farm economy in the Midwest was poor, so we moved here in ’84. My daughter and her husband were visiting for Christmas from California. The local mattress company had just gone out of business, and Brian and Keith went down to see it. They talked me into buying Mattresses of Monterey, which I changed to Monterey Mattress Company.

Q: What is the joy of your world-renowned company that sells beds to four-star hotels and luxury resorts?
A: I get to meet a lot of interesting people – even some high profile celebrities.

Q: Any eccentric people or requests?
A: The largest bed we built was 10 feet wide and 9 feet long. We delivered it to a couple in Las Vegas. Another guy who ordered a bed joked that his check would bounce. I told him his old bed was probably stuffed with money. So, when we delivered his new bed, he found that I had sewn a little zippered pouch into it. We had a lot of fun with that.

Q: Has Ruth ever been jealous of you visiting ladies’ bedrooms?
A: That’s kind of a big joke!

Q: Do you sleep well? Does your back ache when you sleep on hotel mattresses?
A: Sleeping is no problem, I’m so tired. We have an electric mattress. I do inspect mattresses when I stay in motels and hotels. One time, I got down and looked under the bed and there was a card that said, “We even clean under the bed.”

Q: Best moments in your life?
A: I try to make the best of every day. I wanted to move to Alaska, in the old Wild West days before I met Ruth. But, finally, after we were married 40 years we flew up to Anchorage and rented a car and I fished. Then we went back one more time to the Inland Passage on a small cruise ship.

Q: So, you are fulfilling some of your wanderlust?
A: We’ve been traveling some. Ruth says at our age we’d better enjoy it while we can. That’s one thing no one can take away from you: your memories. We’ve been to Ireland, New Zealand, and Hawaii several times. In a couple weeks we’re going to Maine. I often join her for conferences she attends. She is active for maternal child health and had a traveling clinic for the county at one time.

Q: What is aging changing for you?
A: I move slower than I did. (Laughs) I always joke people and tell them my age is about 119, in work years. I’ve worked about a 70 hour week for 60 years. I said I’m going to have to live to be 100 to do everything I want to do, but now I think it’s going to have to be 200.

Q: And what is that dream you want to fulfill?
A: I like designing. If I live long enough, I’d like to do production runs of something I’ve designed. You make a run of 100 and start building up inventory and then sell them.

Q: For what will you be remembered?
A: (Laughs) I never really thought about it too hard. Brian says I’m too negative, but I tell him I’m just cautious. People think of me as a perfectionist, but I just tell them there’s nothing on earth that couldn’t be bettered. There’s always room for improvement. If you think you have everything mastered, you have quite a lot to learn yet.

*******

P.S. Dale confessed that the worst thing about aging is that he now has glaucoma. I left his home humming a Dan Fogelberg song (about a young man, whom I imagined to be Dale’s songwriter/record producer son, Brian) whose cabinet maker father is aging and his eyes are growing dim. But to him, his father will always be the leader of the band.
When I look into Brian’s face, I see this adoration for his father. The only change one might make to the song is that “pops,” as Brian calls him, seems a long way from laying down his tools. His eyes still sparkle with the boyish joy of a traveler who intends to experience the four corners of the world – once he can cut down to a 40-hour work
week . . .

Written by Susan Cantrell

About the Author

Susan Cantrell has interviewed several thousand people throughout her two-decade, award-winning journalistic career writing for local and national newspapers and magazines. For seven years she wrote the weekly column “Quotable Notables,” for The Monterey County Herald newspaper, upon which her book is based. She now writes “Quotable Notables” for Carmel Magazine.

Her signature - according to editors, readers and interview subjects - is offbeat and thought-provoking questions that have inspired revealing answers from such celebrities as: Clint and Dina Ruiz Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Jay Leno, Joan Fontaine, Olympia Dukakis, Suzanne Somers, Doris Day, Ted Turner, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Brooke Shields, John Denver, The Smothers Brothers, Olivia Newton-John and many more. She lives in Pacific Grove, California where the ocean is her muse.

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