Paul Gambaiana was born on October 14, 1921 to Alfonso and Santa Maria (Dinelli) Gambaiana in Plainfield, IA, the youngest of 11 children. He was raised on the Willow Lawn farm west of Waverly, IA. Like so many of his generation who lived through the Depression, Paul learned the value of hard work, how to be thrifty and perseverance. These were characteristics that he demonstrated in his life and instilled in his children.
He graduated from Waverly High School in 1938 and then enrolled at the University of Iowa. With the onset of World War II, Paul joined the Air Force’s Officer Training School and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and a co-pilot on a B-17 bomber. From an airbase in England, Paul and his crew conducted several bombing raids on select targets in Germany. On April 24, 1944, while co-piloting the B-17 “Miss Patricia” Paul and his crew received fighter and flak damage and were forced to land in Switzerland.
After being held as internees for several months, Paul and his navigator made a courageous attempt to escape and were caught at the French border. They were sent to the notorious Swiss punishment camp Wauwilermoos, where they endured harsh treatment until being released on a prisoner exchange in 1945.
In April of 2014, almost 70 years after his capture, Paul and 161 other airmen held at Wauwilermoos were awarded the Prisoner of War Medal. He was among eight living airmen who attended ceremonies at The Pentagon.
Following military service, he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Northern Iowa and launched a long and impactful teaching career as a high school science instructor. Paul’s career started in 1947 at Chamberlain, SD and two years later accepted a similar position at Hawarden High School. There, he immediately became smitten with the high school secretary, Dixie Lou Smith, and they were married on December 28, 1950.
To this union eight children were born: Anne (James) Jennings of Mountain View, OK; Steve (Kris) Gambaiana of Omaha, NE; Tom Gambaiana of San Antonio, TX; Sue (Linn) Lovin of Albert City, IA; Kathy (Bill) McCabe of Storm Lake, IA; Mary Margaret (Lyle) Hamstra of Sioux City, IA; Matt (June) Gambaiana of LeMars, IA and Mark (Robin) Gambaiana of Des Moines, IA. The Gambaiana family had a West Sioux graduate each year from 1970 through 1978 with the exception of one year.
At West Sioux, Paul’s teaching career spanned six decades (1949-1991) and he along with the late Elwood “Whitey” Iverson were the cornerstones of the faculty for many years. He taught literally thousands of West Sioux graduates through science, chemistry, physics and math classes. Repetition and attention to detail while making the subject matter relevant and fun were his classroom hallmarks. His influence on his students is immeasurable. Paul also spent many years as a driver’s education instructor during the summer and girls golf coach during the spring, leading two teams to state tournament action. Amid a busy schedule, he took evening and weekend classes to complete a master’s degree from the University of South Dakota and taught science courses at Sioux Empire College in Hawarden for many years.
In retirement, Paul enjoyed spending time at the Smith farm in Lincoln County, SD; gardening, traveling to visit his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, sporting events, and spending time relaxing on the porch at their 11th Street home in Hawarden, where they lived for 56 years. Affectionately known as “Papa G” by family and friends, Paul loved his family and treasured the annual family Thanksgiving get together at the Marina Inn in South Sioux City for two decades.
Left to cherish his memory and example are his wife of 68 years, Dixie of Hawarden, his eight children, 19 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, seven brothers and three sisters.