Wednesday Afternoon With Gene Gamber

Local advocate still active in community

(Story originally published in the Lee’s Summit Journal in March 2012)

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Sometimes those with heavy financial acumen are not synonymous with also having a sharp community eye on community involvement.

Clearly, Gene Gamber breaks that mold.

The namesake of the Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation’s Gamber Center, 4 S.E. Independence Ave., is still as savvy on local politics, policies and issues as he was decades ago.

In fact, Gamber still remains busy and active on local boards, including chairing the Civic Roundtable, and the more informal coffee group that meets daily at the Whistle Stop in downtown Lee’s Summit.

No matter the crowd or topic, Gamber, rightfully so, has the ear of those around him while also taking the time to listen on what is going on in the community he has called home for more than two decades.

Still humble about the name of the building, Gamber said he feels fortunate to have been so active with the facilitation and funding mechanisms that helped make the senior center possible.

“I did pick up the gauntlet for the senior center,” Gamber said during an interview after another one of committee meetings, this time the Chamber of Commerce’s Government Relations committee. “Tom Lovell (Parks and Recreation director) suggested we join forces, so, we made that happen.”

Then-Mayor Karen Messerli appointed both an advisory and a board of directors to manage the senior center, which in the 1990s was located at Arnold Hall. Gamber served on both as president of the advisory board and vice president of the board of directors.

Putting his financial savvy that spanned 30 years at General Motors to work for Lee’s Summit, Gamber got involved in many of the operations at the center in Arnold Hall, including helping the non-profit board with grants and other revenue generating streams.

In 2005, he became treasurer of the campaign to fund a new senior center – an initiative he got personally involved with.

“The Parks and Rec sales tax was sunsetting, and the talk was that we could wrap up the senior center into a new bond issue,” Gamber said, adding that the understanding would be the new center would fall under the Parks and Recreation regime.

Gamber was pivotal in talking to members of the Lee’s Summit City Council about the land at Second and Independence – the future site of the senior building that bears his name – and for helping to secure the balance of funds needed for construction.

Never, though, did Gamber let it cross his mind that his name would land on the center.

“We had several meetings about how we were going to name the facility,” Gamber recalled. “Then all of the sudden, there was no conversation about it. I didn’t even know until the ground breaking.”

Seeing through a project of that magnitude earned Gamber several accolades and much community esteem. In 2005, he was named the Citizen of the Year for the Truman Heartland Community Foundation. It was less than 16 years after he moved to Lee’s Summit.

“In 1989, my wife (Sylvia) passed away and I was living alone (in Raytown),” Gamber said. “Some close friends of mine, including Stan Atkinson, encouraged me to move out here and together we decided to build a two-unit town home in Lee’s Summit.”

Gamber worked in the back of Atkinson’s office for a while before opening Gamber’s Fifth Avenue Antiques.

The business was open a little over a year, but Gamber says he has no regrets.

“I had high end antique furniture, it just didn’t go over in Lee’s Summit,” said Gamber, a wry smile creeping across his face.

Still, Gamber had made his mark in various other business circles and been giving financial advice and know-how to political action committees around Lee’s Summit working as a spokesperson for HOA’s that were at the table to discuss the positives and challenges of the proposed shopping center that would be Summit Woods, at the behest of longtime friend Dave Gale.

Gamber would also be involved in the Citizens for Excellence in Lee’s Summit and the Friends of Lee’s Summit.

“I enjoyed those times, although I will never be treasurer of three different organizations again,” he said.

Gamber said his connection to Lee’s Summit took time, but that once he made himself available, there was no limit on opportunities.

“When I first moved to Lee’s Summit, it wasn’t that easy (to get involved),” he said. “But once I started getting involved, it honestly wasn’t that difficult. Once you express an interest, it’s kind of hard not to be involved.”

Through his work at the senior center, with the city and among the neighborhood and political groups, Gamber has had a weighty impact on Lee’s Summit, something he says anyone can accomplish.

“It’s wide open for the opportunity here,” he said. “In Lee’s Summit, you can be whatever you want to be. It’s a place you can truly contribute.”

And while Gamber sets aside any talk of political office, he knows he hasn’t seen his last bit of action.

“The next thing will be the next thing. I will know it when it comes along,” he said.

In the meantime, his legacy of service to seniors and governance of his community will stand as a long-term legacy in Lee’s Summit.

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Where were you on 9-11?

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(Column originally ran on Sept. 11, 2009)

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working for the Blue Springs Examiner selling advertising. Heading into work, and running a few minutes behind, I left the house about 8:15 a.m. When I started the car, I almost knew instantly something was wrong. It was the same feeling I had back when we invaded Iraq when I was in high school. My regular music station, 101 The Fox, wasn’t playing music, and it was eerie listening to a disc jockey try and explain that we were now at war.

On this fateful day, again, there was no music on my music station, only silence and background noise.

I quickly turned to 980 AM and couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

As I pulled into the office, I slammed my Grand Am into park, raced inside and asked if anyone had heard what was going on. Being a newsroom, of course, they had.

I immediately turned on the TV in the small break room of what is now Rod’s Sports on R.D. Mize. I remember frantically trying to keep up with the ‘crawl’ at the bottom of the screen, a seemingly genius news idea that hasn’t gone away since we were attacked that day.

I called my parents. I called my editors in Independence. I called my friends.

Like many Americans that day, I felt chaotic and helpless at the same time. It was a surreal mix of anger and fear that only intensified as I watched the second tower hit fall down, then the first.

I remember screaming in the break room each time something happened – a plane hitting the Pentagon, another going down in a field in Pennsylvania.

Knowing I wasn’t going to get a lick of selling done that day, I eventually headed to Independence where the newsroom was bustling with energy. The front page had to be redone, the news and photo wires were going crazy and plans were being made to put together a special section on what was now being called a terrorist attack on our country.

I remember crying a few times that day, especially when I attended an impromptu church service that night at the parish I grew up in, St. Mark’s Catholic Church.

We felt pride as Americans and defeat for all the innocent lives lost all in the period of a day. It was more emotion than any of us were prepared for, especially with the intense and often close-up media coverage given to the events of the day.

I remember being proud to be a member of the media that day, too – something I have felt many times in my career despite what some may say about our profession.

The day took a lot out of us, and even more in the form of sacrifice from many that lived and worked in the cities that were hit and soon after with the enormous task we were about to ask of our military.

It was a day that culminated with many of us slowly walking in the front door of our homes that evening, slumping into a chair and trying desperately to find something else on TV.

And no matter how your night ended, you will never forget how it began that morning.

Council Law and Order (and rules)

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(Column previously published June 6, 2012)

Bob Johnson wants to lay down a few rules. And really, this is something he’s been asking to implement for many years.

The only difference is, now, he may have the council support to get it done.

Johnson, the District 4 representative on the Lee’s Summit City Council, is chairman of the newly formed Rules Committee – a group that includes council members Kathy Hofmann, Derek Holland and Allan Gray.

This group is charged with reviewing the various rules that govern meetings as laid out in the city charter and with discussing and, possibly, setting new guidelines for council comments, citizen comments and other areas of the council meetings.

This is, honestly, Johnson’s dream committee.

In the first few minutes, the chairman discussed his disdain for a lack of consistent rules during council meetings, voiced his opinion that citizens and council members should be able to engage in dialogue and even went as far as to say he believes the city is closing too many meetings.

Gray added that when some procedural questions come up, that the council sometimes lacks direction.

Much of the council/citizens comments discussion – although it has been a topic in Lee’s Summit for some time – stems from last year’s blow up as Johnson engaged in conversation about the Ted White lawsuit and settlement during that “comment” portion of the meeting.

Johnson later said he was censured, something other council members have denied. Still, when our council can and cannot connect with citizens who come before the dais should be specific and on paper.

The committee made known their feelings last week, something that may be a preview as to how future council votes will go.

Johnson, Holland and Gray all said this process should be about openness and people interacting with their local government. Holland said he doesn’t want anyone telling him he cannot interact with a citizen who has come before the council.

Each city does this process differently. Lee’s Summit has been fairly lenient on letting citizens address the council on a variety of topics. Other towns have a sign up process. Some allow for a dialogue, others do not.

Hofmann was the lone voice of dissention on the committee, saying she was not in favor of council responses to citizen comments during the meeting.

The committee spent some time debating Roberts Rules and other issues, which is, again, something that seems like it should be or should have been in place for a city this large.

Largely, things in Lee’s Summit have been well managed and well planned out. A quick glance at our city, our streets and our parks can confirm that.

With this rules committee, we need an expectation that decisions will be firm, be quick and be adhered to. We don’t need this committee stretching out for a long period of time. These kinds of systems and policies should effortless.

 

The Hertzog legacy

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(Column originally published Aug. 26, 2011)

I first met Bud Hertzog back in 1997 or 1998. I had no idea he was a veterinarian, that he could mend a mouse, a horse and a turtle in the course of a day, that he held a spot on the Jackson County Legislature or that he was so involved in the school district.

I just knew he was the grandpa to Chad and John.

And true to form, Bud didn’t tell me any of those things.

He just wanted to talk about wrestling.

In the mid and late 90s, I spent a lot of time wandering the gymnasium at old Lee’s Summit High, hitting the wrestling duals and spending countless hours at the annual holiday tournament with Ethan Hauck, Jay Helland and, of course, mama Hertzog (as we all called her) and the hospitality room.

Sure, we came for the wrestling – but we stayed for the food.

And even though it wasn’t football season, the elder Hertzogs were there in full force to support their grandsons on the wrestling mat.

As Lee’s Summit High School prepares to honor Dr. Bug Hertzog tonight with the naming of their football stadium, I have to wonder how much time over those decades Bud and his wife Betty spent at the Lee’s Summit football stadium and field house. Hours upon hours of wrestling, football, track and volleyball dedicated to their grandkids over the years – which are one of many reasons Bud is receiving this enormous honor.

He says he doesn’t deserve it.

I bet a lot of Lee’s Summit residents would disagree.

Grandson Chad, now an assistant principal at his alma mater, won an impressive 122 wrestling matches during his wrestling days. In 1998, he went 39-0 on his way to his second state championship. Later, he would put on the black and gold again to wrestle for the University of Missouri. I bet grandpa and grandma were there for just about every one of those wins.

Those long afternoons in the gym at Lee’s Summit were always made easier when I would see Bud Hertzog approach.

I never met anyone in Lee’s Summit during my days as a sports writer who was as appreciative of the press as he was as proud of his kids and grandkids.

Bud never slapped me around for not writing more about Chad or John or Mark. As a proud grandpa, he just wanted to be there and be supportive.

It would be years later that I would figure out just who Bud Hertzog was and what he meant to Lee’s Summit High and the community at large. And more than a decade later, I would move to Lee’s Summit and join him at many community events.

He still likes to play “remember that time” when talking about old athletes. Those are stories I love to hear.

And while the longtime school district supporter may not fully accept this honor that is about to be bestowed up him, everyone around him Friday evening will know why – why they will now call it Bud Hertzog Stadium.

A pair of (upsets?) at Tuesday’s election

(Column originally published on April 9, 2010)

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Randy Rhoads has been running on fumes lately.

The newly elected Mayor of Lee’s Summit has gotten a little sleep this week, but it has been pretty nonstop for him since Tuesday – the day he pulled the upset over sitting Mayor Karen Messerli.

Now, whether Rhoads’ win was really an upset is, I suppose, up for debate.

Messerli’s time in the mayoral seat has been largely popular and progressive for Lee’s Summit. But no one has knocked her off – good times or bad – from her post.

Until Tuesday, that is.

Much like municipal judge candidate Dana Altieri, Rhoads put together a monumental campaign. Heck, one might even call it a crusade.

Rhoads was crusading to unseat an admired mayor; Altieri was battling to somehow topple a judge who had warmed the seat in the courtroom for some 36 years.

Rhoads, the current Mayor Pro Tempore, will move one seat over in the city council chambers on April 22. Maybe then, he will be able sleep a little.

“The night before the election when your name is on the ballot, you don’t sleep worth a darn,” Rhoads said.

He was up at 4 a.m. on Election Day. Meeting people, adrenaline flowing.

“It’s a big day. You’ve worked for that day,” he said.

And by day’s end, it paid off as Rhoads defeated Messerli by more than 1,200 votes.

There were thousands, though, that didn’t vote for Rhoads. And he knows why.

“She’s done an excellent job and she left her fingerprints all over this city,” he said of Messerli. “I recognize that. I don’t begrudge anyone for voting for her.”

But he’s not worried about winning over her supporters.

“It’s my nature to work with everybody,” Rhoads said, adding he plans no wholesale changes to boards and commissions.

“I don’t have a stable of people that I want to put into certain positions,” he said. “That’s not to say there will not be any changes. Otherwise, it’s Karen Part II and that’s not what the voters voted for.”

Altieri will have to distinguish herself in a similar way over William Lewis, the man who sat in the big chair for more than three decades.

It will not be enough for Altieri to simply say she’s different than Judge Lewis. She is going to have to be different and differentiate herself immediately.

The voters spoke loudly and boldly on Tuesday.

Rhoads and Altieri now need to do some bold things themselves.

Downtown LS has changed, for the better

(Column originally ran Feb. 27, 2009)

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Things have certainly changed a lot in downtown Lee’s Summit since I was last here. OK, not completely. And please don’t mistake ‘change’ with any negative vibes.

Change is good. It’s healthy and it keeps us on our toes.

Lee’s Summit’s downtown was always a destinatio

n for my friends and I back when I lived in Independence. The live music was good, the food was unique and the atmosphere was always exceptional. To have all of these elements and not have to fight the crowds and traffic of Kansas City was truly a blessing for us.

And yes, I had to deal with a dose of change when I got back into town.

Chicken ‘n’ Blues and Strothers were favorite hangouts, but now we have Ciao! Bella and The Peanut. I’ve eaten at both in my short time here (on top of my Publisher duties I do consider myself an amateur food critic) and have been impressed with both, especially Ciao! Bella’s Black and Bleu salad – the only way a guy’s going to look tough eating a salad is when they throw a steak on top of it.

Music lovers have many places to stop as well. Third Street Pub and 3-2-1 Club have given way to Sharkeez and Braata – both fun and creative additions to our downtown core.

Clothes, jewelry, furniture, framing, trophies, gourmet food, art…the list goes on and on. It’s an impressive and inspired group of businesses we have down here.

At the quarterly meeting of the Lee’s Summit Main Street organization this week, I was checking the long list of 2009 events.

I thought I had a busy schedule.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade coming up in a few weeks is the kickoff to what promises to be an energetic and rousing time to be in downtown Lee’s Summit.

The Spring Open House, Bunny Hop and Downtown Days follow in March, April and into June with the start of the farmer’s market and the weekly free Friday night concerts a constant staple throughout the season.

Given the enormous growth of Lee’s Summit over the last decade, it’s refreshing to see this city maintain a thriving and exuberant downtown area.

And we must keep in mind that none of events are possible without the dedication of our downtown organizations and strong will of our downtown businesses.

If you haven’t been lately, this is a perfect time of the year to come back.

The Carpenters Union, RED and concerts

(Column originally ran May 1, 2009)

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Representatives from RED Development came by the Journal this week to discuss money.

That seems to be all people are talking about these days.

They were talking about the millions of dollars it is going to take to finish up the enormous project – Summit Fair – at U.S. 50 and Chipman Road.

Some call it a bailout. Others say the money is simply a safety net.

Either way, the lines in the sand have been drawn between those that see the $10 million-plus as a “loan” and those that see it as a means to finish a project that will be huge for Lee’s Summit.

Recently, a flier had been released calling the city council’s decision to underwrite the loans “Another Government Bailout…”

Those that made the flier – Dave Wilson of the Carpenter’s Union has admitted he is the ringleader – said RED is making him and others red with anger.

Equally, RED Development is seeing red about Wilson’s flyer and has been on a mission to set the record straight about it.

Here are the undisputed facts:

JC Penney and Macy’s are booked and going to open this fall. Other stores have verbally committed, but nothing is on paper yet as far as a date to move in. However, RED is positive other stores will be open in 2009 beside JC Penney and Macy’s.

RED is also unable to confirm a restaurant right now, although there are several restaurant pads available. Again, though, they tell us this will happen in time.

Another undisputed fact is this: the economy is making it tough for retail stores to pull the trigger on opening. Whereas a few years ago stores were asking ‘When can I open?’ they are now asking ‘How long can I wait?’

Another area of confusion has been whether or not the downtown concert series will indeed stay downtown this summer.

The official word is in: the concerts are downtown for 2009.

“All three of the concerts are going to be downtown on Green Street,” Joe Snook, assistant administrator of Parks and Recreation, told me yesterday.

Snook did confirm the Parks and Recreation department did have some discussions with RED about having the Blues and Jazz Fest at Summit Fair.

But those conversations were borne out of necessity, he said.

“We lost a major sponsor last year and we’ve been searching for sponsors for quite some time,” Snook said. “We made a long list of possible sponsors and RED was one of them. It came back there was some interest on their part to do some at Summit Fair.”

The fear was that RED would move one of the shows away from downtown. As much as some would not like that, when a company is writing that kind of a check, they can pretty much move it wherever they want.

Parks and Recreation has since secured a partial sponsor for one of the concerts.

And while the concert series is safely downtown this year, the battle to keep it there might become a yearly occurrence.

Sponsors are often hard to come by and the Parks and Recreation department said it has to think about the entirety of Lee’s Summit when it plans these events.

“We have an amphitheater out at Legacy Park, so, to be honest, that could be a future venue,” Snook said. “It’s not absolute these will always be in downtown. We need to be beneficial to the community.”

For now, though, Green Street is still the place to be as Bayou Bash rolls out June 19, followed by the Jamaican Jam on July 17 and the Blues and Jazz Fest Aug. 7.