The celebration of a birthday is about celebrating the role of friends and families in an individual’s life along with recognizing the importance of the individual’s life. We throw a party, decorate a cake with the number of years proclaiming their age, and then give a special gift to the individual having the birthday. While all birthdays are special, some we pay a little closer attention to and with good reason. The 1st, 16th, 18th, 25th, 50th and 75th all mark a special milestone in one’s life, but the centennial or 100th birthday is an accomplishment only a few elite will have the opportunity to enjoy.
On November 5, 2013, John Gander joined those elite few by celebrating his 100th birthday at his current place of residence, Burton Health Care Center in Burton, Ohio. Friends and family members surrounded him and paid tribute to this man’s, not one, but many life accomplishments.
As the son of John and Jessie Gander, growing up in Meigs Township of Muskingum County, Ohio, John found himself attending Ohio’s smallest one room schoolhouse located on their 220 acre family farm with his six brothers and two sisters. John graduated from high school in 1932, and then years later, at the cost of $35 a semester, John attended Ohio University, graduating in 1939 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. During his college days in 1937, 1938, 1939, John was a pitcher for the Ohio University baseball team.
Two years after graduation in June of 1941, he would find himself serving the next five years in the United States Army. He attended officers training in 1942, being assigned to the Fourth Armored Division. After extensive training in the desert and Texas, John was shipped off to England just 30 days after D-day, with his division assigned to General Patton’s third army. John returned to the states in October of 1945 and he was discharged with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He then went on to work for the United States Civil Service with the Veterans Administration and Lordstown Ordinance Depot.
Burton Flower and Garden
A partnership with Web Rose began when the Barnes Greenhouse on Route 87 was purchased. This partnership dissolved in 1952 with the Rose family moving to Florida. It was in the fall of 1952 when the Gander family moved from Kent to Burton, Ohio, assuming all operations of Burton Flower and Garden. John terminated his Civil Service employment, devoting himself full time for the next thirty years to the business along with his wife Dorothy.
In 1972, Burton Flower and Garden was incorporated, then in 1975 a horticultural distribution division was added known today as BFG Supply Co. Their initial warehouse was situated where the Jim Timmons Dairy Farm is today. The current warehouse located on Route 87 was built in 1976. Then in 1980 Burton Flower and Garden was sold. John retired as chairman of the board of BFG Supply Company to devote time tending his 25 acre tree farm, nut groves, and perennial gardens.
Involved in the Community
The love for family, friends, and community continued and is seen by his actions and specific involvements with local groups, committees, and businesses. John was a past president and 14 year member of the Geauga County Board of Education; a past president and member of the Burton-Middlefield Rotary Club, having a perfect attendance for 60 years; a past president and 60 year member of the Burton Chamber of Commerce; organizer, member and past president of the Berkshire Badger Booster Club; organizer, member and past president of the Tunebackers named for the Berkshire Band Boosters; and while his daughter Marilyn attended college at Ohio University, John was a member of the Parents Advisory Committee.
John has received many honors for his hard work throughout the community including his Outstanding Service Award in 1975 from the Berkshire Badger Booster Club. In 1973 the Cleveland Farmers Club named him Geauga County Farmer of the Year, and he received the Distinguished Service Award by the Burton Jaycees.
John’s love for his community showed with his involvement as co-chairman of the fundraising committee to build Kent State University’s Geauga Branch and for being instrumental with BFG Supply Company, building the Horticulture Greenhouses at the Kent State University-Geauga Branch in Burton. John also co-chaired the building committee for the new addition to the Burton Log Cabin, situated in Burton Square. Together with John’s second wife Helen (Zang) Gander, a beautiful reading garden was sponsored at the Burton Public Library in 2003.
John’s memberships included being a charter member of the Greater Geauga Ruritan Club, long time member of Burton Congregational Church, lifetime member and supporter of The Geauga Historical Society, and fifty year member of the Burton Masonic Lodge.
John’s love for family began with his first wife Dorothy (Seidel) Gander in September of 1942 (Dorothy passed in October of 1985). They shared two daughters, Marilyn Hornak (husband Don) and Ellen Bonner. There are four grandchildren and ten great grandchildren.
As an avid Cleveland Indians fan for seventy-five years, John was a season ticket holder the last thirty plus years. At Jacobs Field, he was given the honor of throwing out the first pitch at a game. John is also a fan of Ohio University Bobcats, The Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Ohio State Buckeyes, and his home town pride – The Berkshire Badgers.
During my visit with John on his birthday, a declaration was read in his honor by Mayor Fischbach. Everyone sang Happy Birthday to John with cake and punch being served in the formal dining room with friends and family members Don and Marilyn Hornak and Ellen Bonner in attendance. Upon leaving, everyone gave John their well wishes for the days and years to come.
After the party ended, John and I shared some personal laughs while we talked of our individual families and how life was growing up with his siblings. I spoke highly to him of his second wife Helen, who was my first boss at Western Auto/Tru-Value Hardware of Middlefield, and I introduced John to my husband Duane and my grandsons Matthew and Jonathan.
I ended our casual birthday meeting with four questions being asked of Mr. Gander. I told him to take his time in answering, then I asked what his favorite color, flower, food, and favorite invention was. Without any hesitation he answered with a smile, “Green, the daylily, French fries, and the airplane.” Obviously they are favorites indeed!
I promised John I would make a return visit, gave him a huge hug and a kiss, saying happy birthday one more time. He then sealed our good bye as I walked out the door with a couple hearty, “Go Buckeyes!”
A special thank you goes out to Don, Marilyn, and Ellen for supplying me with years of information about their father. This article could not have been possible without their help or cooperation. Thank you!