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School 21


James Gillen

January 16, 1936 ~ September 15, 2018 (age 82)

James R. Gillen, Age 82, of Wabasha, MN, formerly of St. Paul, died peacefully at his home on September 15, 2018.  Jim was preceded in death by his loving wife of 54 years, Frances; his parents, P. Robert and Neva Gillen of Lake City, Minnesota; and his nephew, Mark Gillen, of Cedar Bluff, Alabama. He is survived by their daughter, Mary (Scott) Gillen Fenske, of Shoreview, Minnesota; his daughter from a previous relationship, Michelle (Jack) Mortel, of Danbury, Wisconsin; five grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; his brothers, William (Joyann) Gillen, of Cedar Bluff, Alabama; Peter Robert (Janice) Gillen, Jr. of Waco, Texas; his sister, Dorothy (Lance) Teachworth, of St. Paul, Minnesota; and numerous nieces and nephews.  He was a caring husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, and uncle.

Jim was born January 16, 1936, in Chicago, Illinois and moved to Lake City in October 1945.  He graduated from Lake City High School in 1954.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1954 and served in the artillery of the Fourth Infantry Division and at Seventh Army Headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.  He achieved the rank of Staff Sargent and was honorably discharged in July 1957.  On August 13, 1960, he married Frances Cheslik of Wabasha at St. Felix Catholic Church.  He earned his Bachelor’s degree in English and Social Studies at Winona State University in 1962.  After briefly teaching in Aurora, Illinois, Jim and Fran returned to Minnesota and Jim joined the St. Paul School District in 1964. 

Jim received his Master’s Degree in School Administration from Winona State University in 1972 and his Doctorate in Secondary Education from the University of South Dakota in 1976.  During his 28 years in the St. Paul Public Schools, Jim taught at Central, Johnson, and Highland Park High Schools and spent eight years with the Learning Centers Program, where he taught students how to collect oral histories of St. Paul residents, write the stories, and publish them in historical journals.  Known as “Doc” to his students, his passion for teaching included subjects ranging from Shakespeare to Black History and students who normally skipped class would show up to school just to attend his classes.  While he loved all his students, he excelled at motivating those kids who sat in the back row to recognize their potential.  He retired in October 1995 to Fran’s hometown of Wabasha.  During their retirement, he and Fran enjoyed travelling to all 50 states and abroad, hosting the Cheslik family reunion every Fourth of July, and spending winters in Arizona, where they enjoyed visits from their grandchildren every spring break.  Mary would especially like to thank Jim’s exceptional caregivers, Judy and Barb, who enabled Jim to live happily and comfortably at home until his passing.  A funeral Mass will be offered on Friday, September 21, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Felix Catholic Church in Wabasha.  Family and friends may call at the Abbott Funeral Home, 236 2nd St. W., Wabasha, MN 55981, Thursday from 4-7 p.m. and they may call at the church one hour before the Mass on Friday.  Please direct correspondence and condolences to the family of James R. Gillen c/o Abbott Funeral Home.  Online condolences are welcomed at

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