Features, Mitchell Park, People

“I grew up in this park”

Daniel Gabrielsen sits on a bench at the southwest end of Mitchell Park watching the children swing and play.

The 65-year-old Gabrielsen, a veteran of the Vietnam War, grew up near 28th and National and says, when he was a child, you could almost always find him and his friends at the park near Layton and Pierce Streets. “We spent most of our time, here.”

A lot has changed since then. “That front part of the park they turned into a parking lot used to be a big field,” he said. “We always used to play baseball and football and everything.”

He was so busy being a kid that Gabrielsen, who attended Doerfler Elementary and Boy’s Tech (now Bradley Tech), said he didn’t even think about what he wanted to be until later on. “When I was little, I never much thought of it, you know. Once I was in middle school, though, all I wanted to be was an electrician, so that’s what I got to be.”

For Gabrielsen, it was that simple and, for a long time, electricity was his life. So much so that two of his three children work with electricity, as well. “I remember my daughter used to tell me…if it wasn’t for electricity we’d all starve.”

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But Gabrielsen, whose youngest is now 27, experienced a stroke in January.

After that, Gabrielsen, who’d worked all the way up until then, just wasn’t the same, physically. “I couldn’t walk around the job site anymore,” he said, “and my left arm doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to, you know, so, it’s what you call early retirement or whatever.”

Since then, Daniel has thought a lot about whether or not he’ll be able to work again. “I don’t know what I could do – I’ve been an electrician all my life.”

So, for now, he spends his time at the park. “I come back here and watch trees grow and watch grass grow…people leave you alone and it’s quiet.”

Gabrielsen says he has some money saved up in IRAs, will be able to tap into Social Security and is grateful for all the help he received from the VA after his stroke but he’s going to miss being an electrician, all the same. “It’s a very, very logical thing…and the world isn’t like that, I hate to say, but electricity is.”


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