Gene Gamber, one of Lee’s Summit most beloved and respected citizens, died March 7.
During decades of service to the city, Gamber, 84, left a deep and wide legacy touching virtually every facet of Lee’s Summit and impacting the lives of its residents.
“Gene made one investment in Lee’s Summit and that was himself,” Lee’s Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads said. “He invested himself in the community and he made incredible dividends for our residents.”
For more than 40 years, Gamber, whose full name was Harold Gene Gamber, worked tirelessly to build a better city and, in the eyes of those who worked with him, Lee’s Summit would not be what it is today without his contribution.
Through the years, Gamber’s involvement in the community never slowed down either. Rather, as his vision and passion gained momentum, so did his commitment.
As recently as 2017, Gamber received a Missouri Park and Recreation Association award for his work on the “Vote Yes! for Our Parks” Committee.
He also formed Citizens for Excellence and was instrumental in founding the Friends of Lee’s Summit. Both organizations have been instrumental in the passing of pivotal bond issues for public safety, road, parks, and the arts.
Gamber worked on the expansion of the Lee’s Summit Airport and served on the board of directors of the Industrial Development Authority to promote industrial and economic development.
Last year, he also chaired the John Knox Gala, “Party Like a Pirate,” which raised over $200,000 for improvements at John Knox Village.
Gamber also served as treasurer on the Lee’s Summit Educational Foundation which raises and distributes funds to benefit the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District community.
In addition, his vision and work were fundamental in getting the “Welcome to Lee’s Summit” gateway monument constructed on along Interstate 470.
“He thought there was a need for the monument and facilitated getting the funding to have it built,” former Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Bruns said.
She added, “Gene was one of the most humble, hard-working, community-minded people I have known and he wanted what was best for the community, but he didn’t want recognition. He was that perfect example. He had no ego and no reason for what he was doing, except for the good of all.”
According to his twin brother, Dean Gamber, people couldn’t be around Gene without recognizing those qualities he came to be known for throughout his life.
After graduating from high school together, the Gamber twins served side by side in the Marine Corps for three years. Dean remembers his brother always being there for fellow Marines, encouraging them and helping when or wherever he could.
“He was an unassuming and quiet yet effective leader,” Dean said. “It showed a lot of wisdom, in my opinion. At the root of his motivation was a caring for people.”
Among numerous city projects, perhaps the one Gamber is best known for is spearheading the effort to build a community center, which was named in his honor — the Gamber Community Center.
In 2007, he learned the existing senior center was closing. In line with his convictions for helping others, he believed there needed to be a new spot for seniors.
“One afternoon while I was the parks and recreation administrator, Gene stopped by for a visit and asked if we could talk,” said Tom Lovell, who served as Lee’s Summit Parks & Recreation director for 38 years and now is running for the Missouri House of Representatives. “Gene sat down and said, ‘We need to have a senior center, I need to be involved, and we need to start right now.’
“We did get started but I was concerned it was going to be really difficult. It wasn’t. When Gene was on your team, things you thought were going to be difficult were so much easier. Everything he did, he did from his heart. It all went back to that core of who he was.”
Gamber’s effort paid off with construction the 19,000 square-foot facility, which opened in June 2008 and was designed to be welcoming for residents of all ages.
“The only thing he thought we got wrong on the project is when we decided to name it after him,” Lovell said. “He didn’t want that.”
Gamber was serving as Lovell’s campaign treasurer prior to his death.
Rhoads, who also worked with Gamber on the community center project, had a similar recollection to Lovell’s.
“The only time ever I saw him the least little bit upset was when he thought officials were going to name the community center after him,” Rhoads said. “But they went ahead anyway. ... Gene showed that an individual can make contributions to a community with absolutely no expectation of personal recognition or gain.”
It made him unique among local community pillars.
“He will be impossible to replace,” Bruns said. “Lots of people do lots of things in the community but nobody will ever replace Gene.”
Of the countless lives he touched, perhaps the one who will find Gamber most irreplaceable is his twin brother.
“It’s hard to explain,” Dean said. “Our feelings ran so close together. I knew what he was feeling and he knew what I was feeling, even if we were thousands of miles apart. Our thoughts were so intertwined. We would send the same greeting cards to each other at the holidays, even when we were halfway around the world from each other. It happened so many times.”
Services for Gene Gamber, including a visitation from 9 to 11 a.m. followed by a memorial service at 11 a.m., were scheduled for Tuesday at Langsford Funeral Home, 115 S.W. 3rd St. in Lee’s Summit.