Ion Ghelu Destelnica

Ion Ghelu Destelnica

The Gehl surname is noted in documents as far back as the 17th century and is carried in the lands of southern Germany, Saxony, and Transylvania. Among the Saxons of Transylvania was the Gehl aus Arbegen family, from which Master Ion Ghelu Destelnica originated.

Coincidence, or rather destiny, led Peter Gehl aus Arbegen and his wife Anna to move from Agârbiciu near Sibiu, in the Kingdom of Romania, to Oltenița around the end of the 19th century. There, on the banks of the Danube, they obtained naturalization, and two sons were born to them. As noted by the Bucharest Parish Office of the Evangelical Church, Johann Gehl, the younger of the boys and the father of the master, was born on March 24, 1900, and was baptized in the evangelical rite.

After finishing primary school, Johann Gehl – now „Johan Ghel,” following Romanian spelling norms – along with his brother Peter, was sent by their parents to Germany to learn the trade of locomotive mechanic. The First World War caught the boys in Wilhelm II’s Germany, from where they returned qualified and experienced in their work, only after the peace of Buftea-Bucharest.

Back home, Johan and Peter joined the CFR (Romanian Railways) and settled in Fetești. One day, they thought to go to a tailor shop in Fetești to each order a suit. As soon as Johan entered the tailor’s shop, his gaze fixed on the dark eyes of an apprentice there. And fixed it remained, as they ended up getting married.

The girl’s name in documents was Gherghina, but people in the village called her „Lina of Neculai,” after some ancestor named Neculai her family might have had. Lina’s father, Dănilă Neculai, was from Stelnica, about two hours’ peaceful walk from Fetești. Dănilă had married Maria, a „poor thing,” as Master Ion Ghelu Destelnica later testified, so not having much land to work, Lina found it wiser to apprentice at a tailor shop in Fetești.

Through the agricultural reform of the summer of 1921, the authorities decided that young people should be given a decent plot of land, and God blessed them in the fall, leaving Lina pregnant. But the greatest burden came when Johan suffered a work accident, after which the doctors of the time didn’t give the young man much time to live.

Johan passed away, and the Ghelu family still keeps in memory a story from Lina. Winter had passed, and spring had brought trees into bloom. In that April of 1922, the apple and plum trees were in blossom, and Johan, increasingly weakened, went out into the garden for the last time. The lad had been marked both by the horrors he had heard the Germans of Mackensen commit in the bombings against civilians a few years earlier and by the post-war xenophobia of the Romanians. It wasn’t easy to be Protestant and bear a German name in those years, so Johan asked Lina to have the child she was carrying baptized Orthodox, to bear his name, but to still give him a common, Romanian name.

Johan passed away shortly thereafter, at almost 22 years old. A few weeks later, on May 7, 1922, Lina and Johan’s child was born. They named him Ion, a Romanian name, as his father wished. But we know him by the name on his books, Ion Ghelu Destelnica.

Ion Ghel attended primary school in Stelnica, and because she had meanwhile opened her own luxury tailor shop, Lina could support him to attend high school in Fetești. His literary pursuits are now well known, and a literary career is already foreseen for him.

However, the country enters the Second World War, and the young man is sent to the front. There, he directly experiences both the heroism and the horrors of war, which he will later write about in his published plays: „Symphony of Stone,” „Ballad of the 44,” and „Entry into Time,” as well as in the ones that remained unpublished, like „Clay Skylark.”

Back home, young Ion Ghel wanted to complete his studies and go to college. But the family’s land and his mother’s status as a „small bourgeois,” the owner of a tailor shop, did not fit with the rigors of the time.

Since Ialomița County was among the first counties where collectivization had begun, for her son to be accepted to college and to prove that he had „healthy origins,” Lina gave the land to the collective, gave up the business, and stayed to work as a „cooperative craftsman” in the tailor shop where she had been the owner.

Thus, Ion Ghel became a student at the Art Institute of Iași, specializing in theater, which he graduated from in 1949. During his student years, he also engaged in intense literary activity, published poetry, was awarded for the novella „Ion the Man,” and participated in founding the Iași branch of the Writers’ Union, a union in which he remained a member for life. To honor the commune of Stelnica where he was born, during this period his works were published under the pseudonym „Ion Destelnica.”

In 1942, the Antonescu government intensified efforts to build the Bumbești-Livezeni railway line, but the costs of the war caused activities to stagnate, and by 1946, barely over 50% of the work had been completed. Petru Groza’s Communists, realizing the importance of the project, mobilized large masses of workers to complete the work. But the people were uneducated, unable to read, and accidents were frequent. Thus, in parallel, the Communists began an extensive literacy campaign, during which thousands of workers on the construction site were also taught to read and write.

In the summer of 1948, student Ion Ghel became a foreman at the Bumbești-Livezeni construction site and here he began his career as a teacher, working with his mind and soul, for which the Communists decorated him with the distinction of pioneer of the VI Science Brigade. Then, although he had not yet finished college in Iași, he enrolled in parallel at the Bucharest Institute of Cinematography, in the screenwriting section, which he graduated from in 1950.

An encounter with Tudor Arghezi and his advice prompted him to change his name and become as we know him, Ion Ghelu Destelnica.

In 1951, fate brought Ion Ghelu Destelnica to Bacău, where we find him as an actor at the State Theater until 1956. Then, from 1956 to 1961, we find him as the chief methodologist in the Education and Culture Section of the Bacău Region. In this role, the master led, coordinated, and organized the theatrical activities of the cultural houses and cultural centers in the current counties of Bacău and Neamț.

From 1961 until his retirement in 1982, Ion Ghelu Destelnica worked as a theater professor at the Popular School of Art in Bacău.

Sînică Vrânceanu

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