Young at Heart


This is an image of my grandparents, Tom and Gale, on a beach in Puerto Rico. The beach’s name is Playa Sucia. They have been to Puerto Rico about 9-10 times total.

By Abbey Rochowiak

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But, in the case of Gale and Tom Konkel, every day brings a new surprise. At almost 70 years old, the couple spends their golden years living life on the lake, partying, and traveling the globe. With all this and more, the two have become the backbone of their family, managing events and traditions from large to small, and always leaving time for their loved ones.

“We were planning for retirement, and we’ve always wanted to live on the lake,” said Gale. In the year 2000, the couple’s dreams came true. With the help of Gale’s father, the perfect cottage was built off of Burt Lake, Michigan. They moved almost 5 hours away from their city home, and, little did Tom and Gale know, they were about to lay down the most memorable foundation the family had ever seen.

Gale later encouraged two of her sisters and two of her brothers to stay on the lake as well. Living only down the road from most of her siblings and her father, the family’s summer get-togethers are often large. These iconic get-togethers include going boating, tubing, water skiing, jet skiing, golfing, kayaking, fishing, snowmobiling, or just having a classic barbeque. “Sometimes, I don’t even know some of the people there,” says a younger cousin Matthew Johnston. “A lot of guests aren’t even technically family.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Meet Ken, a lifelong friend of Tom. The two have known each other since grade school. Ken and his wife also live on Burt Lake, and attend these, almost daily, summer gatherings. Dan and Kim, another loyal couple, have known Tom and Gale since high school. Together, living on the lake as well, they are still making more memories to come.

So what’s the secret? “It’s what we’re known for.” says Tom. “We keep close friendships. We’re sort of the backbone of everyone’s traditions, friend and family. We value that a lot- we’ve grown up together. It’s just a lot of history.” Added Gale.

“You would think after having three grown-up kids and six grandchildren over the years, the place would be totally worn, but it somehow still looks brand new.” Confessed Lisa Johnston, the middle child of Tom and Gale. “Nothing beats just chilling out and watching the sun set on your parents’ beach with all your other siblings. We all live pretty far apart now, so catching up with a beer or two while the kids play is a great way to pass the time. Summer wouldn’t be summer without a trip to Burt Lake.”

It seems like a lot, and, sometimes, it can be. Being the life of the party always comes with its disadvantages. “A lot of friends means a lot of drama,” says Gale. “But at the end of the day, we’re still adults and always see things through.” “And sometimes we just want time to ourselves, which is rare,” Mentioned Tom. “Nonetheless, each day is a blessing, and you never know if it’ll be your last. We especially try to tell that to our kids. We want to pass down all of these summer and winter traditions, proving that family is the most important value of all. Even with six grandchildren, we have our own personal and special relationship with each one.”

Another fascinating addition the Konkels participate in is worldwide traveling. To them, this is another key hobby that helps them stay active, busy, and educated. Their favorite place to travel to is Peru, and their next destination is France. This is only the tip of the iceberg, though, as they’ve hiked through Panama, the Amazon Jungle, and, once, took a 4 day biking trip through Amsterdam.

“One place that really stood out to us was a little location in Guatemala. You can only get there by boat. They don’t even speak Spanish there, they speak Mayan. Women carry water jars and cinder blocks on their backs, just like you’d see in the movies. They do their laundry in the lake, which is right near a volcano.” said Tom.

“Culture is so amazing,” stated Gale. “It’s what motivates us to see the world. We plan to hike through the Mediterranean sometime soon.”

“We also see some of the most odd, yet intriguing foods.” Commented Tom, “In Italy, we ate pig snout. Back in Spain, we ate octopus and barnacles. And we ate guinea pigs in Peru. A lot of places we visit are near the sea. So if it wiggles, is slimy, and from the ocean, they’ll 100% eat it. Especially in places like Spain and Portugal.”

Traveling can come with its own dangers, though. “There was this one time we were at a train station, and two guys walked up to Gale and purposely dropped their wallet to cause a diversion. When she helped to pick it up, they started to take off with her backpack! That was, until, she started yelling at them at almost the top of her lungs. They dropped it and ran, thankfully, but sometimes you’ll never know what’s gonna happen, and it’s crazy.” Chuckled Tom. “Safety is really important, no matter where you travel.” Gale tacked on.

With all these crazy adventures, the two always bring home a little memory no matter where they go. On a shelf at the cottage, a container filled with beach glass from Puerto Rico brings off a unique touch to the house on the lake. The shelf is also lined with coral, sand dollars, and seashells. Even treasures from their own sandy beach are scattered about, with petoskey stones in their gardens and on their window sills. Bringing back chocolate from the Netherlands, and socks from New Zealand, The couple makes perfect special gifts for any family member. The trinkets lead curious grandchildren to ask questions, and stories to be told for years to come.

“Life is way too short to waste time. Every day is a gift, and another chance to see the world. After being around for a long time, I can speak for both of us when I say treat everything and everyone with respect. Trust in yourself, close friends, and your instincts. Staying active is so important. You look good, feel good, and most importantly, it keeps a positive attitude. Most people our age don’t get to do what we do now, and we’re almost 70 years old. Balance between working hard and playing hard is the key. And our story is living proof.”  Concluded Tom with confidence.