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Sprute leaves civic legacy in Farmington

Gale Sprute died his Farmington home Oct. 26. He leaves behind a civic duty legacy as a city council member and a 20-year firefighter who designed the Farmington Fire Department’s logo displayed on uniforms, vehicles and flags. He also designed and supervised the creation of the 9/11 Memorial located behind Farmington Fire Station 1. Kara Hildreth / contributor

Gale Sprute lived a life giving back to his hometown.

His wife Carol Sprute shared her husband's life of civic service. Personally, Gale was a kind and gentle man who was analytical and never short tempered, Carol recalled.

Born in 1938 in his grandparents' Farmington home, Gale, 79, died of cancer Oct. 26, in his Farmington home with loved ones nearby.

As a young man, Sprute was a star athlete who set high school records in basketball, football and track. He graduated from Farmington High School in 1957. His four-year career record of scoring 1,736 points in basketball still stands, along with his record timing in jumping hurdles. His athletic skill earned him a scholarship to Winona University where he played football and was inducted into the university's Hall of Fame in 1988. He later was drafted by the Detroit Lions but was cut in their camp.

College was where he met the love of his life, Carol, who worked in the dorm cafeteria.

"We met at Winona State and he was a star athlete in football, and he had broken his leg and when he came through the lunch line he could not carry his tray," she recalled. "I was at the end of the serving line and it was my task to carry his tray to his table and that is how we got acquainted, then became friends and that blossomed into love and marriage and happily ever after.

Gale's life story is remarkable for many reasons, but one may be because he conquered health challenges early in life. When he was 8, he kicked around a frozen milk bottle in the winter ice and the thick glass ended up cutting his Achilles tendon and the wound became badly infected.

"The doctor wanted to amputate his foot and his mother said, 'Absolutely no,' and she kept pursuing doctors to take him to," Carol said. His mother's persistence ended up saving his foot.

A few years later, his legs were challenged when he experienced symptoms of the childhood disease polio. He was treated at Sister Kenny.

Throughout his life, Gale struggled to build up his muscles and worked to put weight on his legs, Carol said, but even with body-building, he was not able to build big muscles.

After college, he worked as a math and physical education teacher; most of his teaching career took place in South St. Paul Public Schools. Many former students shared their love and fondness for him as a teacher across social media.

"One of the common things I found is that they said he was a good teacher and kind, and one student said, 'I think he was 7 feet tall,'" she said. Gale stood 6 feet 4 inches, but his teaching stature and reputation towered higher.

In Farmington, Gale decided to give back to his hometown by serving as a volunteer fireman for 20 years. He used his creative talents to design the fire department's logo that is displayed on firefighter uniforms, fire house vehicles, the firehouse flag and the front of the old firehouse.

Sprute gave back to his community by serving as a Farmington City Council for eight years in the 1980s.

"He was very much a looking out for the common man in the city, and the people really came to him with problems and he was pro-business, too, but he did not think the city government should be catering to that side," Carol said.

Known to drive his red pickup truck slowly around town, Carol jokes how many spoke of how cautious and slow a driver her husband was in his life. Thinking this was an admirable quality, she said Sprute was known to clog up traffic headed to St. Paul, and many locals dreaded getting behind him on the roads when commuting to work.

In his spare time during summers, Gale remodeled the front and back of the family house and enjoyed tending to their vegetable garden. They had four grandchildren from two children, daughter Dawn Slinger, and son, Cael, whose first name was a combination of their first names, Carol and Gale.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Gale decided to take his emotions of sadness to create a memorial green space in the back of the Farmington Fire Department's old firehouse.

"After 9/11, he was really bothered by the whole thing and felt the fire department needed to have a memorial, so he created a memorial concept and some Boy Scouts did some of the work," Carol said.

The couple maintained the memorial garden area together.