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Gary Lee Lapka

| March 15, 2024 7:00 AM

Gary Lee Lapka was born in Veblen, South Dakota on April 30, 1940, to George and Leona (Kallas) Lapka. 

The oldest of five children, Gary had a strong work ethic. He went to work for his father at a young age, driving cattle to market. Never one to pass up fun, Gary learned to carve out time for fishing and hunting rabbits when he wasn’t working or in school. 

By the time he graduated high school from Leola School in 1959, Gary had developed the art of balancing responsibilities with fun, which enabled him to buy his first love, a 1959 Chevy Impala.

The following year brought an even greater love to Gary when he met Sharon Ostrander. They were married that year and Gary began working as apprentice to the butcher at a local shop in Watertown, South Dakota. His hard work and tenacity earned him the position of manager in a short time and became the steppingstones upon which he built a life for his family. 

Gary and Sharon were blessed with three boys during these early years in South Dakota. He bought his first grocery store in his hometown of Leola and after a short time, he sold this store and moved his family to Mandan, North Dakota to work for Super Valu grocery wholesaler.

Gary and Sharon welcomed their fourth son there, as Gary continued to hone his skills in the grocery business, working with the various store owners and managers served by Super Valu. Gary yearned for a grocery store of his own and he found it in Fairview, Montana. He purchased the store and named it “Gary’s Super Valu.” The business was a family affair, with Sharon doing the bookwork with their youngest in a playpen at her side, and the older boys working as box boys and cleaners. 

Gary had a knack for finding good deals that would be beneficial for the community, such as crates of inexpensive Kangaroo sneakers and bulk clothing items. Whether they liked it or not, these items became staples in the kids’ wardrobes throughout their childhood. Gary went on to buy stores in Kildeer, New England, Williston, and Powers Lake, North Dakota and in Sidney and Wibaux, Montana. 

The kids made many memories in those stores, as they learned from their dad the art of balancing hard work with play. Sharon and Gary welcomed a daughter during their time in Fairview and their family was complete. At the age of 39, Gary and Sharon were able to retire in Western Montana.

They moved their family to Bigfork in 1979 and enjoyed their retirement together until Gary got an itch to buy a store in Hungry Horse. Then in Libby, Polson, Thompson Falls and Plains. He loved to keep busy, or get a deal, or both!

Gary and Sharon divorced in 1992. Their boys ran the stores so Gary would finally take time to enjoy his retirement. Gary shared his love of the outdoors with his children, grandchildren and friends, both old and new. He loved fishing, hunting, picking fruit and teaching his kids and their friends how to waterski.

Some of his happy places included a beautiful house on Flathead Lake that he and his friend Arnold built; his hunting cabin on the North Fork; his garden and cherry orchard; and anywhere he could sit around telling stories or, as he often said jokingly, “telling lies!” 

He always had gifts for his grandchildren (fresh raspberries from the garden, a roll of Smarties, etc.), and he delighted in watching their eyes light up when gifting them.

Gary married Audrey (Vilhauer) Reis at his Flathead Lake home in 1995. They were married until the time of his passing on Jan. 14, 2024, in Altoona, Iowa at the age of 83. 

He is survived by his wife, Audrey Lapka; his children: Scott (Cindy), Todd (Sandy), Jeff (Gina), Lynn (Holly), and daughter Michell (Raul) Rodriguez, 16 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren; his stepchildren Michele (Bruce), Aimee (Neil), John (Bry), 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He is also survived by siblings Ruth (Adrian) Geffre and John (Sue) Lapka; and his first wife, Sharon Ostrander.

He is preceded in death by his parents Leona and George, his brothers Henry (Hank) and Jay, and stepson Colin.

We will miss our Dad and Grandpa Gary, his great laugh and jokester ways. He taught each of us to work hard, play hard, laugh often and to take care of our families. 

What we wouldn’t give to hear one of his stories just one more time…