Nov. 14, 1934 - Sept. 14, 2021 Gary Alfred Gene Riopelle was born in Argyle, MN and his family moved to Long Beach, California when Gary was only five years old. Gary would live the rest of his life in Long Beach, residing more than 60 years in Bixby Knolls with his beloved wife Signe, who pre-deceased him. He was the youngest of three children born to Edwin and Ethel Riopelle. His sister Shirley Riopelle Budnick and brother James Riopelle also pre-deceased him. Despite a difficult early childhood during the Great Depression, Gary made many life-long friends and achieved much success in life. As a child, his days were filled with school, newspaper routes, and sports, the last of which became a life-long passion. As soon as he finished selling Press Telegram newspapers as a child, Gary would rush to the Downtown YMCA for basketball practice, where he played on a California State Championship Basketball team with his life-long friend Ray Cummings, future NBA star Willie Naulls and others. Later, he was the starting point guard on the Long Beach Polytechnic High School basketball team, and he remained a passionate follower of Poly basketball and other Poly sports in the Press-Telegram, as he watched his children enroll at Poly and excel in a variety of sports, ranging from football and basketball, to volleyball and golf. Gary's children believe he never missed a game they played, from little league and flag football, to varsity sports at Poly, and Gary often coached them and many other children when they were young. Gary and his dear friend Ray loved coaching their kids, and many of their players still recall them with fondness. After graduating from Long Beach Polytechnic High School in 1952, Gary attended UCLA on an ROTC scholarship, and he remained a loyal alumnus and fan of UCLA sports for the rest of his life. Immediately after graduating from UCLA, Gary married his high school sweetheart Signe Gissberg, whom he had met and fell in love with at age 15 while attending a sock hop at the "Hutch." Gary joined the Army after graduating from college, and was stationed at Fort Knox, where he rose to the rank of First Lieutenant. After being honorably discharged from the Army, Gary and Signe returned to Long Beach, and never lived anywhere else. During his business career, Gary turned down many offers of promotion because he never wanted to leave his hometown. He and Signe spent their entire marriage in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood where she had grown up. They had 62 joyous years of marriage together, and Gary's heart was broken when Signe died in July, 2018. Gary saw great success in his career. He was promoted to President of the Bell Brand Foods Company at age 35, and shortly thereafter became Controller over the Western United States for the Sunshine Biscuit Company, a division of American Brands. Later, he served as Treasurer and then President of the Kirkhill Hardware Manufacturing Company. Throughout his career, Gary was loved and admired by hundreds of employees and colleagues, and he loved those he worked with like family until he retired for good at the young age of 59. After retirement, Gary and Signe spent their days focused on family, friends and fun. They were active in the Long Beach Bruins, a local booster club for UCLA sports, and Gary was the President of the Long Beach Bruins for several years. Gary and Signe had a broad circle of friends in Long Beach, with whom they played bridge, barbecued and pot lucked, walked dogs, and vacationed, celebrating many happy occasions together. Gary had a great sense of humor, and kept a large file of jokes which he drew on often, keeping his family and friends laughing. Sadly, most of Gary's friends passed away before him, and he missed their company greatly during his final years. Gary and Signe traveled all over the world together, from Alaska to New York, from China to Scandinavia, and most places in between. When their children were small, Gary and Signe loved taking the family to the UC Alumni Camp Lair of the Bear near Yosemite each summer for nearly 20 years. Many of Gary and Signe's later trips were taken to visit the families of their four children, Roland (Rollie), Robin, Russell and Randall (Randy) Riopelle, all of whom are broken hearted at the loss of their father. Gary was a beloved father-in-law to his daughters-in-law Leslie Kanter, Olivia Seacrest Riopelle and Grace Chee, and to his son-in-law Andrew Torok. He was a very proud father of his four children, but an even prouder grandfather of his eleven grandchildren: Kristin, Michelle, Ashley, Andrew and Rachel Torok, and Lily, Zachary, Kelly, Camille, Jade and Gus Riopelle. Gary was proudest of all of his two great grandchildren Jack and James Ellsworth, and was known to his family as "the Baby Hog," because he spent so much time with them and always loved bouncing a young grandchild or great-grandchild on his knee, or tossing them in the air. Gary's happiest moments came when he had a chance to help others. It gave Gary pleasure and comfort to care for his own children, grandchildren, elderly relatives and friends, and his greatest legacy to all who knew him was his spirit of kindness, community and generosity. Gary and Signe were rectors at St. Barnabas church for many years, and later attended Cal Heights Methodist Church. Gary was a person of great faith, attending services every Sunday until he became too infirm to leave his apartment. He loved contributing to his community as a children's coach, as an Indian Guide or Cub Scout troop leader, as an umpire of Kiwanis baseball games, as his neighborhood's adopted father and as a friend to all who knew him. If his Heaven has been custom designed for him, Gary is barbecuing hot dogs on a beautiful beach for everyone he knew and loved, handing out beer and soda from a cooler that never goes empty, hugging everyone he can get his arms around, petting every dog and tossing every baby in sight in the air, laughing his hearty laugh and telling a few jokes, while covering the baby's ears when necessary. We love you Dad, Grandpa and Bapa. We will miss you, but will carry you forever in our hearts. A Memorial Service for Gary will be held at the Church of Our Fathers at Forest Hills, Cypress, on December 23 at 2 pm. In lieu of flowers, we encourage everyone to donate to the Long Beach YMCA (lbymca.org
) where Gary spent so many happy times or to LUFA World (LUFAWorld.com
), a charity devoted to the cause of animals or to a charity that supports your local community, wherever you are.
Published by Press-Telegram on Sep. 24, 2021.