Random Rochesterite: Jeffrey Van Galder

One resident, numerous anecdotes


Name: Jeffrey Van Galder
Age: 55
Occupation: Salesman for Priority Construction and recycling industry consultant
Where we found him: A mutual friend

Are you originally from Rochester? I’m originally from Yuma, Arizona. I was born when my father was in the Marine Corps. When I was two to three years old, we moved to northern Illinois. I was there until my parents divorced and then went to Beloit, Wisconsin, where my parents grew up and graduated from high school.

What brought you to Rochester? Work. One of my first grown-up jobs was in Rochester. My first wife was finishing up nursing school and Rochester was a good landing place for her with the Clinic. And we just felt it was a good place to raise a family, so we put down roots here.

What does a recycling industry consultant do? Basically, I work with different companies in the industry, specifically putting together different systems to separate recycling as automatically as possible. I work with equipment that pulls out specific materials to create refuse-derived fuels. That’s a marathon not a sprint. It’s really fun. Helping people pick out shingles and siding and windows and fixing up their houses after storms with Priority Construction is also fun. It’s a healthy balance, and I’m just trying to figure out how to squeeze more hours in the day!

You’re connected to the American Legion, right? As a veteran, I served in the Navy Reserve for six years, then three years with the National Guard. My grandfather was active in the VFW and the American Legion. So it was an organization I wanted to be involved in from a legacy standpoint. As my kids got older and I had more disposable time, I became involved with the local post. Eventually I jumped in with both feet, helping as a member at large and then as adjutant. My primary function is membership and membership services. Ultimately I had the opportunity to run for commander of the post. I did that from June of 2020 to June of 2021.


What was your Navy experience like? It was reserve duty. I was working and serving one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. I was attached to a unit out of La Crosse, Wisconsin. I was amphibious Seabee. It was pretty posh duty. Regular weekends would be spent in La Crosse, then several times a year they’d combine our weekends in one month and we’d go to Coronado, California and perform training evaluation. My time in the service was primarily peace time until the very end, so my running joke is that the only conflict I ever saw was maybe a bar fight in Tijuana.

How did you meet your wife? We were neighbors, and we were both going through divorces at the same time. Kelly was a social worker and saw what a mess I was and saved my life. I was lost in my new reality, and she’s the most kind, caring, compassionate person I’ve ever met. She filled a massive void in my life and my heart.

Was there an official proposal? We were on a family vacation out West with a dear friend of mine. His family was in Idaho, and we met in Yellowstone. We were up on a mountain, and I asked my buddy to take care of the kids for a while. Then Kelly and I went to a scenic outlook. And we were looking out over this valley, and I didn’t have a ring or a leg to stand on to ask her—we couldn’t afford the vacation, so I didn’t have money for a ring!—but I told her I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her and hoped she agreed. Luckily, she did. And has for the last 22 years. And, for the record, she did eventually get a ring.

Did you know you were going to propose? No. I think I was moved by the beauty of our vacation. She had a daughter from a previous marriage and I had my kids, and I was caught up in the experience of our families having so much fun together. It felt like a great place and you do crazy things at the ocean or mountains. I did feel very confident the answer was going to be yes.

Scariest moment? I spent about 10 years working primarily out of Denver, Colorado. During that time, my wife was having some numbness and tingling in her hands. She’d gone to the doctor, but I was busy working and unable to attend. She found out she was diagnosed with MS. I’m getting this info on the phone. She’s upset and scared and I’m upset and scared and I didn’t know what it meant. I was terrified what it was going to do with her life and our lives together. But my wife is absolutely amazing and strong. I often forget that she deals with this every day because she just powers through it. Most people who meet her would never know. If you give me the whole magazine, I could maybe tell you how much I appreciate my wife.

Advice you’ve given? My grandfather was probably the most significant adult in my life. He was a quiet, fun loving, cool guy—a World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific. At some point he became at conflict with God. But regardless of where he was in that religious relationship, he gave me very simple advice. And that boiled down to what we know as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have done unto you. Treat others as you’d want to be treated and everything else takes care of itself. I do better some days than others of living up to that. Generally, if you act that way, you’re probably going to have a pretty decent path.

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