Matt Dolan has been playing the bag toss game cornhole for decades, but it wasn't until recent years that the lawn game took on a new meaning for him.
"It's really been an outlet for me, through my grief and losing my wife, of finding something creative to do," said Dolan, whose wife, Jen, died in 2007.
In the years following Jen's death, Dolan searched for a purpose. Early on that was easy — he had two young children to care for. Dolan left work and volunteered three days a week at his daughter's kindergarten class at Jordan Elementary School.
"That was my saving grace," he said. "Thank goodness I had both my kids here with me to force me to get up and do something. Through the next four years it was really about me and the kids."
But as Dolan's children grew up, he realized he would eventually need to look inward for fulfillment. He spent several months brainstorming ways to celebrate the lives and memories of lost loved ones. He ultimately settled on a project that meant a lot to him: a personalized cornhole board that could serve as a tribute while he played bags with family and friends.
The first board Dolan made is covered in photos of Jen, himself and their children.
"It just captures our family in that moment," Dolan said.
Dolan spent the next couple years carrying the board around, door-to-door, workshopping the idea to neighbors and residents.
"It's about taking your personalized photos and creating something really fun for that board surface, so that every time you get those boards out to play you have an opportunity to celebrate those memories," he said.
Soon after, Gamefeller was established. In addition to crafting custom boards, Dolan hauls a trailer around the metro and rents out boards for corporate events.
Steph Fish, an employee of one of Dolan's first corporate clients, was so impressed by the setup that she asked Gamefeller to partner in establishing the Alzheimer's Association's Bean Bagz for Brainz tournament at the Uptown VFW in Minneapolis.
"I reached out to Matt and said I was looking to put on a bean bag tournament and I would really love to get some donated boards because I didn't have a budget to work with," Fish said. "He said yes instantly."
"It's something that fits well with what my interests are," Dolan said. "It's about celebrating those who have come before us and left way too early."
The tournament, now in it's sixth year, has raised more than $100,000. Dolan provides the tournament boards free of charge each year and provides two sets of custom-designed boards for the tournament winners.
"He's one of the most genuine, personable people you could probably ever meet," Fish said. "I always tell people that if I could carry him around in my pocket I would — he's just so uplifting."
Gamefeller is run out of a workshop in Dolan's house, were he employs the remote help of a couple designers and craftsmen. Dolan works on the front-end with customers and assembles the boards after the cover designs are printed in Eden Prairie.
"You try and figure out what you like in the process, you do that really well and let others do what they do really well and try to marry that," Dolan said. "My piece is really getting out and being the face of the business."
Dolan also sells plain boards and boards with the Gamefeller logo, but what keeps him going is crafting boards made up of personal photos, like his original board. He said he never misses the chance to hand-deliver them.
"That moment gets me every time," Dolan said. "It still means as much today to do that as it did on day one. That's really what drives me to do this, that's what keeps me going."