By Cori Hilsgen
A memorial concert celebrating the life of Brian Gapko, who died at the age of 47 in November after a two-year battle with metastatic colon cancer, will be from 8-10 p.m. Friday, April 27 at the Local Blend in St. Joseph.
The event will feature three central Minnesota singer-songwriters, Cathy Kongloth, John Larson and MJ Bach.
Gapko appreciated and supported live music and was an “absolute” fixture at the Local Blend’s Tuesday Open Mic nights since 2010 and met many wonderful friends there.
During those years, he only missed a few Open Mic nights because of side effects from his chemotherapy treatments. On the nights he was unable to attend one of his three favorite performers due to chemotherapy side effects, his friend Stephanie Cofell would call him on his cell phone and put her phone on speaker so he could still hear them perform.
Because he enjoyed the Tuesday Open Mic nights so much, they were part of his obituary and eulogy.
Gapko never married and didn’t have children and felt he would not be remembered after he died.
His friends promised him he would be hard to forget because he gave so much good to remember.
Through an online GoFundMe campaign and a donation bucket at the Local Blend, his friends were able to raise enough money for a beautiful memorial piece and a concert featuring three of his favorite Open Mic performers.
The concert will include the unveiling of the memorial piece made to match his “gentle, loving and authentic soul.”
Cofell said she and her husband, Dave, met Gapko during one of the first Open Mic nights at the Local Blend. Their initial dialogues were about common interests they shared including music, books, comic books, a love of sci-fi and politics. Even though they were at the opposite ends of the spectrum with him, she said this led to some of their best talks.
Gapko had a “bucket list” of things he wanted to see and do before he died, and the Cofells spent a year with him checking things off that list.
Outside of the many excellent and deep conversations the three had, Cofell said their fondest memories are of driving Gapko to different restaurants in the cities to try many various ethnic cuisines which he had never had before and also fulfilling his quest for the perfect bottle of Scotch.
It was during one of these dinners Gapko said, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss in life is dying on the inside while we’re still breathing – before we’ve had the chance to truly live.”
Gapko was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic colon cancer and had significant metastatic cells in his liver. Cofell said Gapko was treated with chemotherapy every two weeks for a year while fighting as hard as he could. From the start, he understood and seemed to accept better than most people would have, that it was not a cure but rather prolonging his life.
Gapko’s younger sister, Lisa Barker, said he was a man who would accept any conversation that came his way, especially if it pertained to politics, television shows, tennis, religion and economics. He is missed by his family and friends every day. His family feels very fortunate and thankful to Stephanie and Dave Cofell and the Local Blend for having made this memorial for him happen to ensure his name and presence at the Local Blend lives on.
Barker said Gapko was the guy who would help out anyone and lend a hand where needed. He would talk about anything because he knew something about everything. A few topics he was especially knowledgeable about included books, music and firearms. He was well-read and could be guaranteed to have the Wall Street Journal in his leather bag at all times.
Gapko often said “I’m sorry” even though he didn’t need to. Barker said he was the person who wanted to take responsibility for others and make sure all had fun in his presence. He was humble and kind to all and supported multiple human-rights groups.
Gapko was the son of Rudy and Leona Gapko. He graduated from Apollo High School and St. Cloud State University, majoring in American studies and economics.
The memorial plaque will be displayed on the Local Blend stage where Open Mic is held from 7-10 p.m. every Tuesday.
Author: Cori Hilsgen
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people’s stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.