GLASGOW — How many times have you forgotten the birthday of an acquaintance?
Without tools like Facebook, many of us would be hopeless. But Dennis Garsjo of Glasgow has never had that problem. And his unique skill has earned him a nickname: “The Birthday Guy”.
Garsjo, 73 years old, estimates he knows close to 3,000 birthdays by heart. “I sat down with a blank calendar a few years ago, and wrote down about 1700 names,” Garsjo said. “I’ve learned a lot more since then.”
In fact when Garsjo walks around Glasgow (pop. 3202), he doesn’t use names. He calls people by their birthday. For those that don’t know him or his talent, the familiarity can sometime take them by surprise.
Just ask his co-workers at Prairie Ridge Village, an assisted living facility, who are used to the way his mind works.
“Sometimes he doesn’t know their name but he knows their birthday and they’ll look at him in shock that he knows the date,” said Prairie Ridge nurse Paulette Knaff. “Because they don’t know him, but he knows them by association if their parent or grandparent lives here.”
Dennis came by his talent naturally. “My mother remembered all our relatives birthdays before she started getting dementia,” Garsjo said. “So I kind of thought, well, I should probably take over. So I started doing that and I learned birthdays every day.”
But he’s no savant. Garsgjo has a tried and true method for memorization that he learned in a college to help remember peoples names.
"It's the acronym CAR,” Garsjo said. “Concentrate on it. Associate it with somebody else with the same name and then repeat it. I don’t think my talent is all that special. I’m more impressed by musicians who can play a song from memory on the piano.”
But nevertheless, the skill has earned him statewide and nationwide recognition. In fact, if you ask Siri who knows over 3,000 birthdays - her first response is an old article about Garsjo.
With encouragement from friends and family, Garsjo recently submitted evidence to Guinness to apply for a world record. He sat for a pair of four hour sessions with auditors at the Cottonwood Inn in Glasgow.
He had a friend take all of the names and birthdates in his day planner and input them into a spreadsheet.
“So it's a 24- page spreadsheet, half a month on each page, and they just call out a name and then I just call out the birthday and we got about 1500 at four hours,” Garsjo said. “The first session we got through about 800.”
He correctly named over 2300 birthdays across eight hours, sent the video recording of the sessions to Guinness and waited.
Weeks later he received a response.
Guinness declined to authorize his record due in part to lack of competition in the field of knowing birthdays. They also wanted proof of the birthdays.
Garsjo wasn’t about to ask 3,000 people for their birth certificates so that was that. Disappointing for sure given the time invested, but it didn’t bother Garsjo very much.
“I think as far as I'm concerned, it's their loss,” he said. “The kids who know Siri have probably never heard of the Guinness Book of World Records. And if you ask Siri who knows the most birthdays, that still comes up.”
He never sought publicity for his birthday knowledge. But he works hard at it because it makes people feel special.
And for the last 20 years working at Prairie Ridge, it’s been a handy tool to have.
“I have fun with the residents. It's been the greatest job,” Garsjo said. “I used to be a consultant and banker and this is the most rewarding job I ever had. I don’t make as much money as when I was a banker, but I go home as night and sleep well.”
He smiled, before continuing: “I have the opportunity to serve people. That must be what the good lord put me on earth for, to be of service.”
Dennis’ birthday is December 23.
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