To those who knew him, Gabor Deli was fun-loving, humorous, and always willing to go the extra step to put a smile on someone’s face.
Originally from Hungary, Deli built a legacy as a gymnastics coach in Minnesota, where he coached hundreds of youths, some who reached All-American status and even the Olympics.
He competed at a high level of gymnastics himself, spending 10 years on the Hungarian national team and competing on the country’s 1968 Summer Olympics team.
Deli died July 7 at age 76. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Katalin Deli, and their sons Gabor Jr. and Gergely Deli.
“He was a wonderful man,” Katalin Deli said. “A wonderful father and husband.”
Deli and Katalin, also a gymnast, came to America in 1971 after Budapest, crossing leaving the Italian frontier in search of better lives. The Delis described that moment in a detailed interview with the Star Tribune in 1989, in which Gabor Deli said they posed as tourists and drove a rental car to a farm near the border.
At the border, they waited in a ditch for a half-hour until soldiers passed, then caught a train to Rome. Deli carried a camera that contained $200 in US currency wrapped in film. Katalin, who was pregnant at the time, wore a purse on her shoulder. That was the totality of their baggage.
After four months in refugee camps near Trieste and Rome, the Delis decided to join relatives of Katalin’s who had emigrated to Minneapolis in 1956 amid the Hungarian Revolution.
Katalin Deli said the two left from Rome to New York on the day she was due to give birth to their first child. She wanted to give birth at their final destination, so they continued into Minnesota that day, arriving around Thanksgiving.
Their son was born a week later.
“Our mind was very set that we wanted to secure a normal family life, which we couldn’t do at the time in Hungary,” Katalin Deli said.
By 1973, Katalin Deli had become head coach of the University of Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team. Gabor Deli assisted his wife for 15 years, and the duo trained several All-Americans and conference champions while winning conference titles. The couple also coached at Mini Hops, a gymnastics academy in the Twin Cities, before starting their own gym, the Olympic Gymnastics Academy, where they coached hundreds of aspiring gymnasts.
Together, the Delis helped many athletes compete in regional competitions, at the college level, and some internationally.
Robin Ruegg competed under the Delis at the University of Minnesota between 1977 and 1979. While there, she was encouraged by the Delis to become a certified gymnastics judge, which would allow her to score the performance of other gymnasts during competitions. Ruegg continues to judge competitions today.
After her time at the university, Ruegg would still see Gabor Deli at state, regional and sometimes national competitions.
“He was so encouraging,” Ruegg said.
Liz Green was coached by the Delis through Mini Hops for several years, and later at the university. As a college student, Green served as an assistant coach under Gabor at their gymnastics academy.
“He was courageous,” Green said. “Fun. Energetic. He was funny and he was a jokester.”
Gabor Deli was telling jokes until the day he died, his wife said.
An outdoor memorial service will be held Aug. 14 in Rockford.