Joseph Leroy Gagalski, also known as Joe, Joe Lee, or Uncle Buddy, passed away at his home in Damascus, Maryland, on Sunday, June 7, 2020 at the age of 85 of natural causes. He was born on July 18, 1934 in Rock Hall to Joseph and Elsie Porter Gagalski, and welcomed as the first son in a family of five sisters; although later joined by two brothers and one more sister. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Charlotte Willson Gagalski; many nieces and nephews and great and great-great nieces and nephews, who loved him dearly.
Joe grew up in Rock Hall, attending the Rock Hall Seventh-day Adventist Church School followed by Rock Hall High School. During his growing-up years he worked at his father’s store, and on Saturday nights he and Charlotte had their weekend “date” by working behind the counter at the store. He was fortunate to be able to learn a trade by interning as a bricklayer during his high school years. Drafted into the Army and certified as a non-combatant, he was stationed at Walter Reed Medical Center near Washington, DC.
Convincing his high school sweetheart to marry him before she was not quite finished with her teaching degree at Towson State College, they were married on March 29, 1957. After Charlotte finished her degree, she and Joe’s mother, Elsie, journeyed by car in the heat of the summer to Texas where Charlotte’s new husband was in basic training, and she joined him there. After moving back to Maryland and being stationed at Walter Reed, Charlotte began her teaching career at Chestertown Elementary School.
After Joe’s discharge from the Army they moved to Montgomery County, Maryland, and he began what was to be his life-long career as a bricklayer and underground masonry. He owned and operated a successful business for many years, eventually retiring in 2004.
The weekend retreat that they built at Huntingfield in Rock Hall was his special place, which he referred to as “paradise.” He loved relaxing with the sights and sounds of nature and the Chesapeake Bay; boating, waterskiing, fishing, and spending time with his extended family and friends, who visited “down the shore” almost every weekend in the summer! He enjoyed cooking fried chicken or fish in the huge iron skillet over an outside fireplace (that he custom built), which was served with homemade shortbread. There were no better picnics to be found than the ones that Joe and Charlotte hosted at their home in Huntingfield.
It has been said that Joe never met a stranger. He enjoyed talking to everyone he met and made them feel comfortable and special. After he met you, you were always considered to be his friend.
Because Joe and Charlotte traveled back and forth across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge almost every weekend for so many decades, he often said that they most likely “owned one of those spans on that bridge.”
Special memories from the family include Uncle Buddy masquerading as Santa Claus at Christmastime, attending every graduation, birthday party, wedding, family reunion, and holiday celebration over the years. He and Charlotte always showed their love and support to their family, and hardly every missed an event. Joe was an active member of the Rock Hall Seventh-day Adventist Church, holding a deacon’s position and was a member of the Board. His favorite hymn was “Seeking the Lost”, which he and his siblings liked to sing on Sabbath afternoons around the old piano at his parent’s home on South Main Street in Rock Hall. He also liked to sing “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Just a Little Talk with Jesus” with his siblings, especially with his brother, Wayne and his sister, Betty; Betty having passed away just three months prior to Joe’s death. The brothers and sisters loved to harmonize, and as the piano player would say, “they would finally get it together on the last cord, which would encourage them to try the song one more time!”.
Joe held memberships at the Sgt. Preston Ashley American Legion in Rock Hall and the Polish National Alliance. He was proud of his Polish heritage and always said that his favorite colors were red and white, the colors of the Polish flag.
Joe was predeceased by his parents, as well as his siblings Catherine Gagalski, Helen Hellman, Delores Podgurski, Ruth “Boots” Samuels, Phyllis Brown, Robert Gagalski, Betty Elburn and Wayne Gagalski.
We will await that wonderful day when the Lord will call his name from the grave and he will be able to sing those favorite hymns as he reunites with his family in heaven and the earth made new.
Services will be held on Friday, June 12, 2020 at 1:00 pm at Fellows, Helfenbein and Newnam Funeral Home, Chestertown, MD where relatives and friends may call from 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm.
Interment will be in Wesley Chapel Cemetery, following the service.
In lieu of flowers, contributions are welcome at the Rock Hall Seventh-day Adventist Church, P.O. Box 477, Rock Hall, MD 21661, or the Rock Hall Volunteer Fire Company, P.O. Box 577, Rock Hall, MD 21661.
Arrangements by Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Funeral Home, P.A.