'Name a beer after that man': WHS teacher, Sioux Falls craft beer enthusiast remembered
Updated: Mar 19, 2021
Two chairs stand alongside the end of the bar at Monk's Ale House in downtown Sioux Falls.
They're reserved for Tim and Jim, best friends whose journey started together at that bar. Their names are painted on the back of each barstool — identifying a place of honor.
Jim Rowland is a regular at Monk's, and the 72-year-old's seat is filled at least once or twice a week when he stops in the taproom.
But his drinking buddy, whose chair was added in late 2020, won't be joining him.
It's not empty though.
A barstool at Monk's is painted with "Tim" as an honorary spot for Tim Gjoraas, who died recently from cancer.
That's Tim Gjoraas' chair, and its presence fills the taproom of Monk's with the memory of the former part-time bartender and Washington High School anatomy teacher.
The chair is a reminder of the conversations Tim had at the bar and the friendships that began there.
It's where he met his wife. It's where he argued and cheered and laughed and cried with the people who in turn called Monk's their home bar, mostly due to his presence.
The 45-year-old died on Friday, Jan. 29 after a nearly two-year battle with colon cancer, according to his obituary.
Gjoraas' memory isn't kept inside just Monk's, though.
He was instrumental to the Sioux Falls craft beer community, he shaped the lives of students at Washington High School for 22 years and he was a father and husband who was a constant comfort and source of joy.
"I just miss Tim. Thinking he won’t be there — that’s tough," Rowland said. "The chair's a reminder, but I don’t need it to remind me about Tim."
'Someone’s got to name a beer after that man'
He was a guy who liked beer.
And that's how people in the Sioux Falls community knew him. He was a link in Sioux Falls' thriving craft beer scene and had a hand in inspiring and teaching several brewers in the area.
The Brandon native taught Jason Currie-Olson, co-owner at WoodGrain Brewing, everything he knew about home brewing. Tim was one of the early home brewers in the Sioux Falls area, starting in the early 2000s and having gained an interest in the art during his many travels. He only stopped about a decade later after a fire in his garage destroyed his equipment.
"He didn't start home brewing because he was interested in the process," Currie-Olson said. "He started because he couldn't find the beer he wanted locally, so he was going to make it. That's who Tim was."
Currie-Olson said Tim was integral to the start of WoodGrain. He was one of their first supporters (and critics), and Currie-Olson regularly asked for his feedback on new releases and recipe ideas. One of Currie-Olson's seasonal releases is a barley wine inspired by one of Tim's home brews.
"It's probably hyperbole to say Tim was responsible for starting WoodGrain, but it's not outside the realm of possibility to say that without Tim, I wouldn't have made that jump from brewing beer on my stovetop to more complicated recipes," Currie-Olson said.
As an avid beer drinker, Tim logged a total of 12,113 beers on his Untappd account, with a total of 14,000 check-ins. Roberta Bennett, a WHS co-worker, became fast friends with Tim after joining the Sioux Falls craft beer community. They'd go to Monk's together after parent-teacher conferences, a way to decompress after some of the "longest days of our lives," she joked.
"Someone's got to name a beer after that man," she said.
Currie-Olson hopes to do that.
He's barely in the planning stages, but he would like to create a beer on tap that would donate a portion of sales to cancer research with each purchase. He saw something similar when he was in Minneapolis.
"It's just continuing to be that positive influence on those around us and to make a difference like he did," Currie-Olson said. "The core of who he was was making a difference in students' lives, the beer community, and his friends and family’s lives."
'He didn't do anything halfway'
Tim was diagnosed with colon cancer in May 2019 and went through several chemo treatments before he was declared cancer-free in February 2020.
But the cancer was still there and just was missed on his scans. By the time Tim was able to be seen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in July 2020 for an exploratory surgery — an appointment delayed by the coronavirus pandemic — they'd found that the cancer had spread and was terminal.
He returned home with his wife, Lisa Gjoraas, and his three children. They cried together.
The next day, Tim's 19-year-old daughter found him in the basement making notes by the furnace.
He was already planning for when he'd be gone, listing his chores around the house the family might not know about and trying to prepare them for when he was gone as much as possible.
That's who he was. He looked out for others before he looked after himself, said Lisa, 35, who was married to Tim for about four and a half years. They would call each other their soulmate, she added.
Ask any person who knew Tim and they'd say he was authentic and kind from the very first impression, said Bennett, 42. An open mind, good conversation and warm smile were always at the ready.
"He would treat you like he'd known you forever," she said.
Tim was also passionate about many things: beer, traveling, education, the Broncos and everything Star Wars.
"I think it's the passion for everything he did that stood out. He was a Broncos fan? Huge fan. Star Wars fan? Huge fan," said Karen Budde, 55, one of Tim's co-workers at Monk's for years. "He didn't do anything halfway. It was big and bold and over the top."
But the biggest thing that stood out about him was that he used those passions for his main drive in life, which was to connect with others and bring people together.
Whether it was his annual brew parties, when he would take beer out of his cellar, fire up his grill and share a good meal and good time with friends, or if it was giving up some of the best pheasant hunting shots while out with his friends, just so they could enjoy their experience, he put others first.
When he was first diagnosed, he made it a priority to spend time with his family and make an effort to be with them. Bennett said when he would stop by her office at WHS, he would share with her not only his fears, but his hopes for the time he did have.
"He lived for what he loved and that was travel and beer and his kids and his wife," Bennett said. "He always talked about making memories. You can't leave your kids with a lot of stuff, but you can leave them with memories."
A teacher to his core
Tim Gjoraas stands next to several years' worth of senior pictures given to him from past students. He saved all of them and put them on poster boards to keep in his classroom.
One of the first decisions Tim knew about his death was that he was going to continue teaching. The anatomy teacher donated his body to science so, even in death, he could help students learn.
Being a teacher and an educator was the core of who he was in and out of the classroom, said Matt Nussbaum, a former WHS teacher and a minority partner at Obscure Brewing.
"It wasn't just that he showed up and taught some students at school," Nussbaum said. "It was every moment that he had, he taught."
Tim was a mentor for Nussbaum in both teaching and brewing, much like he was for Currie-Olson.
He was also Lisa's science teacher while she attended WHS in the early 2000s.
She was one of his students in the first few years he taught at WHS, having graduated in 2004. He was married and had children at that time, and it wasn't until they met years later at Monk's, after he'd been separated, that they reconnected and fell in love.
But it was his teaching that made an impact on her first. Science wasn't her favorite subject, but she could sense just how much he cared for his students, which made all the difference for her in that class.
In his two decades of teaching, Gjoraas would start his classes off with a daily ice breaker, asking his students what was going on in the world. Their answers ranged from current events to what was happening in their lives. Those small moments allowed him to bond with students, Lisa said.
"We're in a field to mold lives and build relationships and encourage kids to be better than when they first came into your classroom or office," Bennett said. "I think that's true for him. I don't think there was a kid that walked out of that classroom that didn't feel cared about."
During his downtime, he'd walk through the halls of the high school to reach his step count for the day, playing games on his iPad. His classroom and office were filled with gifts from students and poster boards filled with senior graduation party cards that he'd collected over the years. He'd stand outside his classroom door between class periods with one of his coffee mugs, whether it was a gifted mug from his wife, children, or a Star Wars mug from his students.
When he got the news that his cancer was terminal, he made the decision to not return for the 2020-21 school year.
"He made the decision mostly for his family not to go back, because it would have taken all of his energy," Lisa said, "but he also said it wouldn't be fair to his students to pass away in the middle of the year."
Tim cleared out his classroom and office in the summer of 2020, and he posted about his recent terminal diagnosis on social media. The response was hundreds of comments from past and current students, sharing how his influence changed their lives.
"What a testimony to your career and just to the type of person he was," Bennett said.
It was teaching he missed the most, as the cancer wore him down and kept him from his daily activities.
"One of the last conversations I got to have with him over the phone was talking about how it had been too hard teaching with COVID," Currie-Olson said. "He asked me to never stop teaching because he missed it so much."
Whether it was behind a desk or a bar, Tim's legacy is in the lives he changed through his wisdom, kindness and encouragement.
"He was glad he didn't wait to do things. It's about making sure you do the things you want to do in life and you don't let those little things stop you," Lisa said.