By Dave McFadden (’82)
Writer and theologian Frederick Buechner once defined vocation as the place to which you are called “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Jim Garber was called to that place, and we are all the better for it.
Jim knew what he did well and focused those skills on causes that mattered deeply to him. If Jim was among a group gathered around a table to develop a plan, he usually ended up in charge. Jim’s friends and colleagues, and Jim himself, would tell you that he could run a great meeting. Jim used to say that he liked being in charge because he knew he could help move people toward the goals they shared.
Jim lived a full and fruitful life. Born in 1926, he served in Civilian Public Service during World War II, married Helen Anne Winger in 1947, graduated from Manchester University in 1950, and earned an MBA from Indiana University. He started in the family retail business, Garber’s Inc., worked for the Church of the Brethren General Board, and spent most of his career building relationships and raising money for Manchester University.
When Jim received Manchester University’s Alumni Honor Award, longtime friend and colleague Paul Keller lauded his leadership role in the just-concluded fundraising campaign, but added that the “intangible contributions he made…turning potential critics into friends of the University, setting a tone of enthusiasm for the future, giving the whole endeavor a sense of dignity…are far beyond measure.”
When Jim retired in 1994, he said, “The one thing I like about retirement is that I can choose what I want to occupy myself with.” He occupied his time raising money for community causes he believed in, including the community pool, sports complex and library. He served on multiple boards, almost always in leadership roles. He was North Manchester’s 1997-98 Citizen of the Year.
Though the Garbers gave up their retail store decades ago, Jim and Anne tended their own family business. Much as strawberries spread by putting out runners that root around a mature plant, Jim and Anne’s children at various times have taken root as teachers and administrators, community leaders and fundraisers, in Elgin and North Manchester, at Manchester University and in the Church of the Brethren.
My life intersected with Jim’s several times, and I found him to be a superb teacher and mentor. We served together on the Manchester Church of the Brethren executive board, Jim as chair of the personnel commission. When the church went through some difficult staff transitions, he taught the board to blend compassion with decisiveness when dealing with challenges.
Jim was also a driving force in the congregation’s decision to publicly welcome to worship all people, regardless of sexual orientation. It frustrated him that such an obvious expression of what Jesus taught was so controversial. Ultimately, Jim taught us that justice can prevail with persistence and passion.
Over the years, Jim taught by example that being a follower of Jesus is about how you live your life. It is, as Buechner suggests, about finding intersections between what brings you joy and what the world needs. Jim Garber placed himself at those intersections every day, and his was a life well lived.
Dave McFadden ('82), a graduate of the peace studies program, is Executive Vice President at Manchester University.