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Wed 65 Years, Vienna Couple Count Their Blessings

Two weeks after Frank Gadell met Margaret Bles he asked her to marry him. Her answer: "no way" - or at least not for six months. A half-a-year later Frank and Margaret were married, and as they celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary on Nov. 29, they do so with 10 children, 34 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
"I knew what I wanted and I grabbed it," Frank said, sitting on the couch in his Vienna home next to the woman he married in 1941. Marge, as Margaret prefers to be called, just smiled.
The Gadell family is a Vienna institution. Frank and Marge were founding parishioners of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, where the two celebrated their anniversary last weekend. While the church was being constructed, Mass was celebrated in the meat locker that Frank owned in Tysons Corner.
All of the couple's 10 offspring attended either St. James School in Falls Church, Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Vienna (OLGC), Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington or Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, and three of the children live on the same street as their parents.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are a tradition at the Gadell house, with more than 70 family members crowding into their home - and more if the entire family shows up.
"There's nothing else like growing up in a large family," said Mary Roesener, Marge and Frank's eighth child who lives across the street and serves as her parents' primary caretaker. "There's always someone that knows a Gadell. That's always been a wonderful feeling."
Frank and Marge met and were married in St. Louis, Mo., six days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Frank was visiting his paralyzed cousin in the same hospital where Marge worked as a nurse's aide. Their first date was in the city's Lafayette Park, though there is some debate about whether it was a ride in the park or only a picnic.
Frank is one of seven - the only boy in a pool of six girls. Marge is one of nine. Frank worked as a butcher in St. Louis, but during the war he joined the Navy and worked on a ship as a cook, even though his only experience with meat was cutting it, not preparing it.
While Frank was in the Navy, Marge did filing for the Red Cross. When their first child, Carlas, was born, Frank went AWOL for the birth.
By the time the couple moved to Northern Virginia in 1952, they had five children - Carlas was 7 and the youngest at the time, Joe, was 6 months. Once settled in Virginia, they had five more because, as Frank said, "We didn't want to show partiality."
Frank helped Marge's brother, Marcus Bles, who owned virtually all the land in present-day Tysons Corner, run the meat locker that Frank eventually bought. While Frank worked at the plant, Marge was at home "tendin' to the kids," she said: feeding them, playing with them and driving them to school at St. James, then the closest Catholic school to their Vienna home.
The number of Catholics in the area soon outgrew St. James, and Our Lady of Good Counsel was established in 1955. Masses were first celebrated at the Dunn Loring Firehouse, but soon moved to the meat locker, which played host to two Masses a weekend for several years in the mid-1950s until the church was finished. Frank organized and served as president of the men's group, which helped fund the building of the church and school.Mike Gadell, the couple's 10th child, has since resurrected the men's group after it stopped meeting for 25 years.
The Gadells always attended - and still do - 7 a.m. Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel. It is these Sundays that Tom Gadell, the seventh child and freshman football coach at O'Connell, said his childhood memories revolve around, with early Mass, dozens of eggs and loads of bacon. Then the family would work in the yard: in the fall they would rake leaves at the rectory; in the summer mow the lawn and plant flowers.
"There was always something going on," Tom said. "It was great growing up; a great childhood."
When Hurricane Betsy swept through New Orleans in 1965, Father Joseph Toy, O.S.F.S., former pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel who had been transferred to Louisiana, called the Gadells for help. The family took up a collection and sent 20 tons of medicine and clothing for hurricane relief. As a sign of thanks, the city flew the 12 family members to New Orleans, presented them with a key to the city and named the family honorary citizens.
"We were treated very specially because of everything we had brought down," Mary said.
"All of us were so involved," Tom said. "It was just a big part of our faith, going and helping people."
Frank owned two and a quarter acres of land on Route 7 in Vienna, so for years they hosted nuns from St. James and O'Connell for annual barbeques, with everything from dancing to hay rides to baseball games. Eventually nuns from 16 nearby convents began attending - numbering 250 to 300 - and the picnic had to be moved to the Bles' property in Leesburg to accommodate the large number.
Frank "semi-retired" in 1980 and sold the meat locker plant in the mid-1980s. He then turned his focus to carpentry and spent much of his time in his workshop downstairs. His gifted craftsmanship is on display in the cabinets, roll top desk and display cases scattered throughout his home. Frank's workbench takes up one entire wall of the basement, with customized drawers, walls and ceiling all heavily laden with tools.
"We call him 'Sears,'" said Tom. "Whenever I need something I just go down to Sears. He has every tool imaginable."
He has made cradles, chests of drawers and, in his spare time, "a little bit of wine," Frank said.
"It's legendary at OLGC," said Mike. "If you talk to any of the old-time parishioners, they'll all tell you they remember Frank Gadell's wine."
A small shrine with a statue of St. Jude also sits in the basement. Frank's strong devotion to the saint of lost causes started in the 1960s when the family was going through some tough times, he said. That devotion was passed along to many of his kids.
"Our family life was built on the faith of our parents," said Laura Carroll, the Gadell's second child who has five children, two of which are the Gadells' first grandchildren. "I can remember some more difficult times when my father was establishing his business, but there was always a sense of trust and that God would take care of us."
At the back of the house is a swimming pool that the couple added when the baby of their family, Mike, was diagnosed with a bone disease. The pool was built for his physical therapy.
"As always it was done out of love," Mary said. "It's always a giving thing. I think that's what the big family teaches you - to take care of each other and others and that's what mom and dad instilled in us."
It was a lesson that Mary learned well, Marge said. "She's our right hand."
Hanging on the walls in the Gadell's living room are diamond-shaped plaques hung as a family tree - with Frank and Marge at the top and each of their 10 children represented though individual diamond plaques below them. Across the living room on another wall hang the grandchildren's plaques, and next to them are, for now unfinished, the great-grandchildren.
One of the grandchildren is Tommy Gadell, the third of five children of Tom. Tommy attended OLGC and O'Connell and now works as a police officer for Fairfax County. Growing up, he lived three houses up the road from his grandparents.
"I couldn't even walk around the block without seeing someone I was related to," Tommy said. "I loved it - just having your family close is great."
After 65 years of Thanksgivings and Christmases together, Frank and Marge are looking forward to celebrating the holidays this year with their large family in the same way that they always have. And, after more than six decades, they are still "lovin' each other," Frank said.
Tom said that it was this love his parents showed through their marriage that made the most impact on their family growing up.
"If I can be half the man my dad is, I'll be okay," he said. "And mom's a saint to put up with all of us. They're great parents, great role models." Gretchen R. Crowe can be reached at gcrowe@catholicherald.com.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2006