A chair will sit empty at a gathering of friends Friday morning as they mourn the loss of Gene ‘Taco’ Bealka, long-time Stillwater High School athletic trainer, former Stillwater City Council member, and World War II veteran.
Bealka passed away Wednesday at his Stillwater home after returning from The Mayo Clinic in Rochester where he had colon cancer surgery. He was 89.
“Taco had countless friends and I was honored to be one of them,” said Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel. “On Friday, a group of us meet at the Lowell Inn and he was always the center of attention. When we’ll meet this week we’ll have an empty chair for him.”
His friends, who dubbed Bealka “Taco,” remember him as a man quick to laugh, with a great sense of humor and a fierce loyalty to his friends and the Stillwater Ponies, who he served as athletic trainer for three decades.
“I think he was a terrific trainer,” former Ponies football coach George Thole said. “He worked with me for the 28 of the 29 years that I was here. He had just a great rapport with the players.”
Along with their relationship on the field Thole and Bealka were very close.
“He was just a special guy, and it’s hard for me to fathom that he’s gone.” Thole said.
In addition to working as the athletic trainer in Stillwater, Bealka served on the Stillwater City Council from 1995 to 2002.
“It’s with a heavy heart that we lost Taco. I was city administrator during the eight years he spent on council,” said Nile Kriesel. “He was very dedicated to his constituents and the city and always fun to be with. He had a great sense of humor and I looked forward to council meetings, because it was always a pleasure to be with Taco.”
Nile and Gary Kriesel both added that Bealka was one of their war heroes from the greatest generation. Bealka served in the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II and on the reserves during the Korean War.
Bealka is survived by Bette, his wife of 65 years, four children and six grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.