2023 Bigwood Lecture
There’s no doubt that Gary Spies cares about Fergus Falls.
The long-time owner of Service Food, Spies has generously given his time and support to an array of community organizations, causes and residents over the past 50-plus years. Surely one of the community’s biggest cheerleaders, he calls Fergus Falls “a wonderful place to live and raise kids.”
Spies will share his story at the annual Bigwood Lecture at Minnesota State Community and Technical College on Wednesday, April 5. The event is free and open to the public in Legacy Hall on the M State campus in Fergus Falls.
Spies, who will soon be 81, plans to talk about “making the world a better place,” as well as something he’s become more familiar with: growing older. “The aging process is not quite what I thought it would be,” he says with a smile.
The Spies name is synonymous with the grocery business in Fergus Falls, where his father opened Service Food in the 1930s. Born in 1942, Spies started working in the store’s meat department at the age of 12 and never strayed from the family business.
“It was a horrible disappointment to my mother, who wanted me to go to college,” he laughs, “but I liked the grocery business.”
Spies also doesn’t hide his enthusiasm for Fergus Falls, which is reflected in his community involvement – from his positions on the boards of directors of Lake Region Healthcare and Otter Tail Power Co. to his work behind the scenes on countless community projects and organizations including the library, the YMCA, the Humane Society, the Salvation Army and the Cancer Care Center.
The most visible recognition of Spies’ contributions to Fergus Falls came in 2022 with the naming of the new downtown Spies Riverfront Park in honor of Spies and his wife, Sharon. The plaque displayed at the park recognizes them “for their acts large and small, seen and unseen, done out of their love for this town and its people.”
With his typical modesty, Spies says naming the park after him and his wife “troubled me somewhat,” but they were honored by the tribute and enthused that the park takes advantage of the natural beauty of the Otter Tail River flowing through downtown. They’re pleased, too, with prospects for future expansion of the park.
Although he has been slowed down a bit by a stroke in recent years and back problems from a long-ago injury, Spies is still active in the community. He has handed over management of Service Food but still goes almost every day to the store. The nearly 120 employees there and at The Market (owned by daughter Amy) are “the most wonderful employees in the world,” he says. “I consider them all to be friends.”
He’s thankful, too, for all the individuals and organizations that work – both behind the scenes and in the public eye – to benefit Fergus Falls.
“They do it because it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “All of us, we need to try and make the world a better place.”
Funded in part through an endowment by Otter Tail Power Company in 1991, the Lecture honors the late Bob Bigwood, who served as Otter Tail Power president and chairman of the board. Bigwood’s leadership in civic affairs at Otter Tail Power and at M State Fergus Falls campus as a founder of both the College and Fergus Area College Foundation sets the standard for the Lecture’s continuing recognition of engaged leaders and citizen participation.
Doors open at 6:30 and Lecture begins at 7 p.m.
Free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.
Minnesota State Community and Technical College
1414 College Way
Fergus Falls, MN 56537