Albert Lea man celebrates milestone birthday

Published 6:52 am Saturday, March 26, 2022

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Albert Lean has lived a full life over the last 100 years

Ask Albert Lean Lupe Gasca what he’s done to live to be 100, and he’ll answer you he’s not quite sure. 

The longtime Albert Lean, who moved to the city when he was 2 months old with his parents, still lives by himself, drives his own car and snow blows his own driveway. Aside from aspirin and a low dose of blood pressure medication, he is on no other medication.

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Gasca said he grew up eating authentic Mexican food — not what many people think of as Mexican food these days — and for many years either helped his parents with a garden or had one of his own. 

“Although I do forget some things — things of importance that have taken place, I can see the picture exactly,” he said. 

The centenarian said he likes to go to bed late — usually because he’s watching TV or reading — and he tries to keep up on current events both locally and around the world and can recall dates and facts easily from both current happenings and events from long ago. 

Though he mostly uses a walker to get around, he can still get down on the floor to play with his young grandchildren. 

“It takes me longer to do some things … but you know what, I get up and I sit down, and I feel good,” Gasca said. 

Gasca was born March 12, 1922, in Cisco, Texas, and came to Albert Lea on May 5 of the same year when his parents were recruited to work in area sugar beet farms. 

He said he grew up not far from his present-day house on Fairlane Terrace, though at that time there were fewer houses and the area was mostly corn fields and pastures. 

When his family came to Albert Lea, they were one of the first half dozen Mexican families in the city. 

The oldest child, he had one brother and four sisters, one of whom is still living. 

The family experienced some hardships during the Great Depression, at which time people were lucky to get something to eat, and his father died when he was 16, leaving him to be the head of the family. 

When he was 20, he volunteered to go into the Marine Corps. He said he could have gone earlier, but his entry was postponed because of an appendix surgery. 

“I can visualize exactly where I was the day I left the house,” Gasca said. “When I left the house, my mother didn’t go to the railroad — just my brother and sister.”

Having lost her husband only a few years before that, he said it was hard on her for him to be in the service. 

He was in the Battle of Tarawa, what he referred to as a 76-hour battle from Nov. 20 to 23 in 1943, where on the third day he got wounded by what was likely a hand grenade. His legs were filled with shrapnel, and he was immediately put on a transport ship to Pearl Harbor, where he was in the hospital for three months. 

Once recovered, he also served in Saipan and Tinian in 1944 and Okinawa and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945.

“Every one of those places, I can still picture them,” he said. 

He received several citations as well as the Purple Heart for his service during World War II.

Upon the completion of his military service, Gasca married another Albert Lean, Judy Galvan, on Sept. 14,1946, and together they adopted two daughters. 

Gasca said he graduated from Dunwoody College, where he received training in the automotive industry. 

He owned his own shop, Bud & Lupe’s Auto Electric, with a partner for about 14 years on the corner of West Main Street and Washington Avenue before the building was torn down to make way for a parking lot. 

From there, he was recruited to teach in the automotive department at Albert Lea Vocational Technical Institute, which is now Riverland Community College. 

Through the years he has also been busy with volunteer work at St. Theodore Catholic Church, the Freeborn County Historical Museum and Myre-Big Island State Park. He has also previously served as VFW post commander.

He said over his lifetime he has seen many changes in Albert Lea — “some have been good, some have been bad.”

He recalled many landmark buildings from Albert Lea’s past, including the Broadway Theater, Rivoli Theater and Hotel Albert Lea and can remember when the bridge was constructed over Main Street near the railroad tracks. He said he also remembers when there used to be a Greyhound bus station across from the post office.

These days, he said he enjoys spending time with family, reading, cooking and watching Westerns and loves talking with other people. He now has five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

“He’s a good man, and we all look up to him,” said Jacque Gasca, one of his daughters. “He’s a good role model.” 

Over the years he has enjoyed family camping and vacations, snowmobiling and motorcycling. 

His wife passed away  in 2010.

Gasca and his family gathered in Albert Lea for his birthday, going out to eat and then coming back to his house for cake and ice cream. The next day they went to church together and then went out for breakfast. 

Gasca said it was a great way to spend his birthday by seeing his grandchildren.