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Road to Recovery: ‘They all matter to me’

After losing her parents, Janelle Gates honored their memory by turning their house into a sober home to help those on their recovery journey.

Three men sit around a table
Dan Norton, left, Bill Wear and Justin Semmler talk with one another Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, around the table at DD Gates House, a sober home in south Brainerd where they have all lived and strengthened their sobriety. Owner Janelle Gates opened the home to honor the memory of her parents, who were committed to the recovery community in Brainerd.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — When Janelle Gates inherited her mother’s house almost four years ago, she knew she wanted to do something with the property to honor her parents’ memory.

People like Dan Norton, Justin Semmler, Bill Wear and Ken Hamre are glad she did.

A sober living situation for those in recovery, the house in south Brainerd creates the community and accountability the four men — and many others — need to continue on the path of sobriety.

“Fellowship is probably one of the most underrated key things in recovery — just the connection with other people that are like-minded,” Semmler said during a Sept. 15 interview at the residence he shares with Norton next door to DD Gates House.

Both Semmler and Norton lived at the sober house after coming out of treatment at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and the Essentia Health’s Facility Offering Care Understanding and Serenity program, known as the FOCUS Unit. Semmler and Norton now live next door in another of Gates’ properties while managing the house, which helps them with their own recovery.

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Not originally wanting to live in a sober house, Wear moved in there after treatment when his only other option was homelessness.

“But I’m really glad I did go to the sober house. It’s been a very great opportunity,” Wear said. “Both my parents are in recovery as well, and the recovery community up around here is great. The opportunity that I’ve had over the last year, I wouldn’t have been able to even fathom when I was using.”

According to a common saying, the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; it’s connection. And that’s what the men found at Janelle Gates’ sober home.

Norton had 18 years of sobriety before spiraling back into active use after a divorce and an empty nest.

“I got to the point where I didn’t really want to kill myself, but I didn’t care if I lived anymore, and I was drinking constantly,” Norton said.

Semmler got into drugs after high school, even more so when he left his hometown.

“I never thought that my journey would bring me back to Brainerd,” he said.

Wear found hard drugs like fentanyl in his late 20s and bounced in and out of treatment before his latest time in the FOCUS Unit stuck.

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All three men took their next steps toward sobriety at DD Gates House and haven’t looked back. Wear has one year of sobriety now, while Norton has a year and a half, and Semmler has over two and a half years.

Similarly, Hamre moved into DD Gates House for a few months last year after treatment in the FOCUS Unit for alcohol addiction.

“It was very supportive, and it was very easy for me to get stronger in my sobriety,” Hamre said by phone Tuesday, Sept. 27.

Today, he’s been sober about 14 months and has his own apartment in Brainerd.

DD Gates House

Janelle Gates grew up in Brainerd and lived through the hardships of addiction with her father, who sought treatment for his alcohol use when she was 12.

Portraits of two people sit on a shelf
Portraits of Don and Darlene Gates sit inside their former South Brainerd home, which their daughter, Janelle, has now turned into a sober home in their honor.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

“Then our life really changed around a lot, and so my parents were really big into recovery because my dad was all in it for everything,” Gates said during a Monday phone interview.

Don and Darlene Gates helped transport people to treatment when needed and put up money to support the Lakes Area Alano Association when it was in jeopardy.

“I was really blessed to have the opportunity to see how bad life can be but then how good it can be and how recovery can change people’s lives,” Gates said.

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Don died in 2000, while Darlene Gates passed away on Christmas Day in 2018, but their names live on in their daughter’s venture, known as DD Gates House, with a gate on the logo signifying the gates are always open.

And an understanding ear is always present.

“It’s hard to explain it until you go through the journey, but when I’m working with these guys, I’m the flip side for them, so I can understand where their families are coming from,” Gates said, adding she shares a message of hope with the men, telling them forgiveness is possible and better times could be right around the corner.

That was certainly true for the men who have lived at DD Gates House, which can accommodate about half a dozen residents.

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Norton busies himself helping with sober house management and resident in-take for Gates, who lives in the Twin Cities but still remains active in the lives and sobriety of those she houses.

“I wouldn’t be sober today if it wasn’t for this and just the support of my peers that are also in recovery,” Norton said.

He also spends a couple nights a week speaking in the FOCUS Unit about his sobriety.

Semmler has a steady job at Clow Stamping Co., and Wear works as a shelter attendant at the Bridges of Hope warming shelter.

Hamre is hoping to build upon his skills as a boiler operator for 30 years as he looks for a job to go along with his newfound sobriety.

And Gates is humbled to see her work — and that of all those who have supported her — pay off.

“It makes me feel good because I want to do right by my parents, but I do believe in God, and I feel like he has really taken control over this,” she said. “So I just feel he’s looking out for the people out there and sending them our way.

“... They all matter to me because even though I’m not an addict, I’ve been on the other side of it, and it still affects me, but I feel good that they have a safe place to go and that they can know that there’s some hope.”

That hope, the residents say, comes from treatment, meetings, health professionals, a loving supportive recovery community, and the persistence to keep trying in the face of failure.

“The only time you fail,” Wear said, “is when you give up.”

Recovery Month

September is National Recovery Month. As of this year, it is also recognized in Crow Wing County . It’s a time to promote and support treatment and recovery practices and to applaud the efforts of those who’ve recovered from addiction and the people who have helped them on the way.

Throughout the month, the Dispatch featured stories of community members in recovery.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Related Topics: EVERYDAY PEOPLEBRAINERD
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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