Janet Gratz's favorite memories of Hastings Family Service had to do with giving and thanks, she wrote in an HFS booklet. It was the middle-aged man who bought her groceries when he found out she was buying for the food shelf, the 7-year-old boy who brought in coins from his allowance to help another child who needed it more, the mother and son who came after work to help distribute Christmas boxes because someone helped them last year, and many more stories representing a caring community.
Gratz was the executive director at HFS from 1985 to 2005. She died April 18, 2017, at the age of 71. The current executive director of HFS, Chris Koop, said that Gratz had a very big role in the success of the organization today and established a very strong foundation.
"Our mission is part of the DNA of Hastings, (people) just know it and they think it's important to help their neighbor and I think (Janet) established that in her 20 years," Koop said.
Even though Gratz had moved to Arizona after she left Hastings Family Service in 2005, Koop said that she found notes from Gratz for years after. Gratz had written on Post-it notes and placed them in many of the files so that Koop would have some extra context.
In addition, Koop said that Gratz had left behind a little collection from her 20 years at HFS. Every now and then some unusual or off-the-wall donations would come into the food shelf that they wouldn't be able to use. Gratz decided to keep a shelf in her office dedicated to these items that included things like escargot, riga sprats, an original jar of Gerber's baby food and more.
"That was kind of fun when I came into this little office and found all these strange things," Koop said.
Lew Linde, one of the founders of HFS, said that he remembers Gratz as a very dedicated person with a big heart. Hastings as a community has always been very supportive of HFS, he said, but Gratz did a wonderful job of tapping into the heart and soul of the citizens of Hastings. It was under Gratz's leadership that Hastings Tastings and the Just Friends program got its start.
"The memory of her service to Hastings will live on for a long time," Linde said.
Gratz grew up in Rapid City and Yankton, S.D. She attended Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., and earned a degree in English and mathematics. In 1973, she received her Master of Science from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Gratz taught English and mathematics in Fairmont, Minn.; Kodiak, Alaska; and Hastings. She married Loren Gratz in 1970 and they were happily married for 46 years. She was a member of the American Association of University Women, the Twin Cities Diabetes Association, the Marana Book Club, and churches in Hastings and Marana, Ariz.
Gratz received several awards including Businesswoman of the Year in Hastings and the Helen Keller Sight Award from the Hastings Lions Club.
In Gratz's obituary, the family suggested that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations be made to Hastings Family Service. Those donations can be sent to Hastings Family Service, 301 E. Second St., Hastings, MN 55033 or to Tohono Chul Park, 7366 N. Del Norte Paseo, Tucson, AZ 85704.
Gratz's full obituary can be viewed at www.hastingsstargazette.com/obituaries/4254004-janet-nielsen-gratz-71.