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How a small break room created a lasting friendship

It’s noon on Wednesday at Belle Square in downtown La Crosse, which means you can find Gundersen Health System employees Adam Bryhn and Elaine Stelloh munching on their Apothik food truck lunches and catching up. They’ve been having lunch together as often as they can since 2014.

“We sat a few tables apart when we worked in the Green Bay Building. We didn’t know each other, nor did we work together,” said Bryhn, a Learning and Development program consultant. “But the break room was small, and soon, we were the only two there regularly.”

“I thought, ‘I should get to know this gentleman,’” added Stelloh, who works part-time in Employee Labor Relations.

Their “lunch bunch,” as they call it, grew to include more folks. Soon, they were meeting after work for dinner and a glass of wine to celebrate birthdays and special occasions.

Despite their age difference, Stelloh, 85, and Bryhn, 40, learned they had a lot more in common than they originally thought.

“We love the same TV shows – Big Brother, Dancing with the Stars, The Bachelorette,” Bryhn said.

And they both have a food and beverage background. Stelloh, along with her late husband, owned Stelloh’s Country Store in Barre Mills for 26 years before joining Gundersen. Bryhn managed River Jack's Restaurant and Lounge before starting his career in Dietary. Later, he transitioned to Organizational Development.

“We’ve really become family. We learn a lot from each other,” Bryhn said. “You think we’d have more of a grandmother-grandson type of relationship, but we’re really just great friends. We can count on each other.”

Bryhn helps Stelloh with technology – like her new cell phone, while Stelloh shares life advice with Bryhn.

“He’s my very best friend,” Stelloh said.

Although Bryhn works from home most of the week, he comes to Belle Square on Wednesdays for lunch with his friend – and the others who drop by their lunch table.

“It’s interesting what can evolve from just saying ‘hello’ to each other a couple times,” Bryhn said. “Who knew we’d turn into such great friends?”

While now they only see each other once a week, they text and chat on Facebook to stay in touch.

The harsh Wisconsin winters and icy driving conditions have Stelloh thinking about retirement. But those who know her are skeptical.

“I just can’t quit. I feel like you need a purpose in life – a reason to get up in the morning and accomplish something,” Stelloh says. “I love my job. I love the people here.”

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