There’s an old article framed and hanging at the front desk of the Gamber Community Center that bears the headline, “What is a Gamber?”
I wish I could remember the first time I met Gene Gamber, who died last week at age 84. I know it was in 2009, but I really cannot recall the context.
What little I did know about him at the time was that this community leader had a building named after him. And I could usually find him at the Whistle Stop Coffee & Mercantile most weekdays at 10 a.m.
What I learned about Gene over time was this — to call him an incredibly generous, insightful and thoughtful leader in Lee’s Summit barely did it justice.
Gene was a forward thinker. A doer. An idea man with a nod to the legislative process and someone who always put his community first.
I learned that early on in our friendship as a member of the Civic Roundtable and working with Gene in groups like Friends of Lee’s Summit or Citizens for Excellence.
Gene would often come by the Journal back in my publisher days, pop in and discuss the local political scene. Under his leadership, many bond issues and projects were passed by the voters that helped move Lee’s Summit in the right direction.
He had the forethought — always — to see what was five, 10, 25 years down the road. He knew darn well he might not even be around to see through all the projects he helped champion, but he did it anyway. And that is the hallmark of a true community leader.
We stood with Gene when the bond issue for the police station upgrades on Tudor was going to the voters. We stood with Gene when it was time to pass measures for roads and development and, most recently, to renew the tax for our parks and recreation department.
Gene took cautious pride in the work he did, which is to say he really didn’t want any credit at all. Whether he was volunteering his time as a treasurer for a campaign, working on the next community bond issue or simply leading a meeting of peers, Gene’s humility always outweighed everything.
It was why you listened to Gene. Always. When he spoke, you listened.
I certainly made a conscious effort to do that when I was around Gene. During what could be spirited and lively conversations at the coffee shop, sometimes voices would be raised as opinions were bantered about in rapid-fire fashion.
Gene, the voice of reason, would often bring us back to center. And if I was just too vocal, he’d flat out tell me to be quiet and listen more. Message received, my friend.
I was always amazed by his willingness to move with the times, too. Gene came by my office last fall to discuss issues he was having with Facebook. Yes, he was embracing social media into his 80s. I had incredible respect for that.
By the time we were done, his account was on its way to being fixed and soon he was back sharing stories about Lee’s Summit and liking the pages of local political candidates.
Mr. Gamber made monumental impacts on Lee’s Summit from the moment he arrived here in 1989. He owned Gamber’s Fifth Avenue Antiques in downtown Lee’s Summit. He was a tireless champion for the parks, development and public safety. He was the Citizen of the Year in 2005.
He was Gene Gamber, a man who with every ounce of modesty helped make Lee’s Summit a better place from the moment he set foot in town.
How fortunate are we, then, that Mr. Gamber decided to make Lee’s Summit his home?
Lee’s Summit resident John Beaudoin writes about city and civic issues, people and personalities around town. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.