Local advocate still active in community
(Story originally published in the Lee’s Summit Journal in March 2012)
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.