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J. A. Russell pursuaded the Classes of 1967, 1968, and 1969 to leave $50.00 to the organization. With that $150.00, twenty charter members met in 1970 to form the Orland Alumni Association. John Wickland handled the incorporation of the non-profit organization, and J. A. Russell was named the Executive Secretary.
A MEMORIAL TO JOE GERBER FROM THE ORLAND ALUMNI ASSOCIATION
Sometimes words are just not enough to sum up the life of a man, but as President of the Orland Alumni Association, I have been given the privilege of trying to do just that for Joe Gerber. I have heard Joe’s story many times and will pass bits and pieces of my version on to you.
For a man who accomplished so much, Joe’s beginnings in Orland were very humble. As a child he struggled with chores to keep his family going during the depression, and that diverted his attention away from school. His mother took on sewing work to help keep food on the table. A teacher named Miss Elsie Hanbury noticed his poor school performance and made a statement to the effect that Joe would never amount to anything. Word is that she passed Joe in her class only because Joe’s mother had done some nice sewing for her.
If I understand correctly, Joe did graduate from high school but did not pursue any further education. Instead, he began farming where he became very successful. The reasons for that success was his willingness to work hard and that he had a keen mind for business. I’m sure if Joe were here today he would emphasize that it was a struggle, but slowly he rose from his humble beginnings to a position that would have made even Elsie Hanbury proud.
Orland’s first reason for respecting Joe is that his story serves as a reminder to our youth that no matter how difficult it may seem, anyone can succeed. He showed us that there are different paths to greatness, and that if education is not available, we can educate ourselves. For those who show courage, work hard, and keep their mind open to learning, anything is possible.
Several years ago Joe Gerber had already made a success of himself and could have just been satisfied with just that, but instead he took another step that has had a profound effect on the youth of Orland. Recognizing that not every child can leave high school and educate themselves as he did, he started the Joe Gerber Scholarship Program for Orland High School graduates. I have had great difficulty explaining this program to local newspapers. Frequently, they have not published my news articles saying that many scholarships are awarded throughout the year. In frustration I would tell them that most of the other scholarships are from large corporations such as Bank of America and that each corporation would offer only two or three, whereas Joe is just a successful Orland High School graduate and he awards 12 or more scholarships. To date, he has used $200,000 (or more) of his own money to help Orland High School graduates get a higher level education. He has helped the scholarship winners directly and has motivated many more.
I am to old to have been helped by Joe Gerber. When I was at the university it was my parents who supported me. I did not have the nature or vocation to make it on my own like Joe did so if my parents had not stepped up, there is little doubt that I would be a drag on society today. Instead, I completed two careers in the military and as a University Professor, retiring in 2007 as the Computer Science Department Chairman at California State University, Chico. I know personally what a difference education makes. It saddens me that Joe will never know the full story of how well his students have done and the difference he made in their lives. On behalf of the Orland Alumni Association, the Joe Gerber Scholarship winners, and everyone in Orland and elsewhere that Joe has helped and motivated, we love you Joe and we will miss you. You were an angel long before you ever passed away. God has so many good reasons to bless and keep you.
With respect and sympathy, Ralph Hilzer President, Orland Alumni Association
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