Happy Birthday John

…updated 11/20/16 with new job at FBP

John w Bible and mic1 copy.jpgYour mother and I had been teaching four years and married three when it was time for you. We were in the same high school, and even shared an office. She wanted to be a stay-at-home mom for you during your pre-school years and the prospect of going from two people on two teacher incomes to three people on one was not very appealing. Once we found out you were coming, I accepted a job with a fundraising company that promised to increase my income. We resigned our positions and moved 200 miles away, to Huntington, Indiana, where we knew no one.

As schools started, I began my new job as a fundraising sales rep. As we neared your birth day, and keeping in mind that this was pre-cell phone, our daily routine included my giving your mother a list of the schools I would be visiting, in order, with phone numbers…..so she could start calling to track me down to come get her to the hospital. On that colder November 21st, I had just walked up to the third-floor office in that old Chester Elem (since demolished) in North Manchester. It was an unusual greeting, because instead of introducing myself and presenting my card, I was greeted with,

“Oh my. Are YOU John Gardner….. well, sir, you need to get home right now.”

I left the building like a burglar after a heist and made that 20-minute drive in about 15.

unspecified-1.pngYou were born on the day the world found out who shot JR. (That was from the incredibly popular show, Dallas. The main character, JR Ewing was shot in the previous season finale — and your birth night was the discovery of the shooter.) According to the 30th-anniversary news story, that was the single most watched tv episode ever. So while everyone else in the country was finding out about JR, we were celebrating you. Interesting that you later asked if you were named after JR Ewing….since you are a junior (JR) and your first two initials (John Robert) are also JR. No, you were not.

You were the first of the next generation for any of my extended family. We were about 180 miles from your mother’s father, 200 miles from my mother, 225 miles from your mother’s mother and over 400 miles from my father; in Dayton, Covington, Louisville, and Sevierville. Many of our weekends and most holidays were spent going one direction or another. We spent most Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter holidays on the road. 

Your birth became a unifying factor. I took the lead there in making sure you (and David) got to know your Grandpa Joe. That was a big step and I’m glad we took it.

You were about two years old when your great-grandfather Bruce Gardner died. We made the 22hr drive to Florida for the funeral. We tried to explain what was happening, but realized we hadn’t succeeded when, during the funeral service you asked, “When is Grandpa gonna get out of that box?”

screenshot-2016-11-19-11-45-40As educators, your mother and I considered alternatives to the public school route we eventually took. In 1980, home-schooled students could not participate in public school classes, i.e. band and choir. We felt strongly enough in the benefits of ensemble music that we chose to make the system work for our family. 

When you took some of the early kindergarten testings, you qualified for tutoring because you didn’t answer the questions the way you were supposed to. Two example questions we remember: 1) Where do you get ketchup? You answered “the store”, explaining to us that you knew the farmer grew the tomatoes, then the tomatoes went to a factory where the ketchup was made and then delivered to the store and that was where we get ours, which was the question. Wrong answer for the test. Another had to do with cars. They showed you a picture of one car. Then there was a picture of two vehicles to identify. You said 2 station wagons, but since the correct answer was cars, your answer was marked wrong. Because your answers were at a higher level, you were graded down and targeted for extra help. Your elementary school principal tried to tell us that there was no way you were reading at 3rd-grade level when you came in. Her explanation was that you had figured out a way to decode the words but that there was no way you were reading with comprehension. Mrs. Randall, your kindergarten teacher, eventually concluded that you were, in fact, reading several grades above your grade level and things started getting better.

Your 2nd-grade teacher tried to tell us you were a trouble maker. Your mother suggested that you were bored because you were finishing your work faster and then trying to find other things to do. She started giving you books to read that came from her private collection helping to further ignite your reading passion.

Project Challenge (a program for Gifted and Talented students) was good for you. For a couple years, you were in a pull out group that met 1-2 times per week. By 4th grade, they had started a 2-yr, 2-grade class at Horace Mann with Miss Krueger as one of your teachers. I remember how surprised and impressed I was when you started asking us to check out Shakespeare videos from the library.

I don’t recall how many years you were a paper carrier for the Herald Press, but you were “Carrier of the Month” multiple times. You got a lot of tips because you headed a variety of customer requests. I often went with you on Sundays because your route was several blocks from home and you couldn’t carry all the heavier Sunday papers. You were faithful, responsible, accurate and timely. Our neighbor, Mrs. Pyle, told us she bragged that she lived next door to the carrier of the month.  

You were really big into several things; Star Wars was one. You were collecting both collectible toys and also game cards. You built lots of models and read series of books about both Star Wars and Star Trek. 

Civil War was another major interest. Vacations included trips to Civil War Battlefields in Tennessee, Virginia and up to Gettysburg. You described each battle to us.

You also loved baseball. We went to all your Tee-ball, Coaches-Pitch and Little League games. You were proficient at the game, but you really strategized and played at a higher intellectual level than many. You understood what was going on and always knew what you were going to do with the ball when you got it, making major contributions to the team.

You started taking trumpet lessons in 7th grade. I didn’t like many of the attitudes and philosophies your teacher had…..but he was a good teacher. I found his “You don’t play if they don’t pay” philosophy frustrating, but he did get you some professional playing experiences with some small ensembles of Philharmonic musicians …. and even getting you a summer gig playing with them on some of the summer concerts one year. You did get paid, although I’m not sure if it offset the amount of the union dues they made you pay — but those were quality experiences.

At some point during high school….. when he was charging about $18/half hour….he sent you home with the message that he wanted to start doing hour long lessons. I called him to ask if there was a discount for the longer lessons. His response; “You get me for twice the time at double the price.” It was one of those times that we were parked in his driveway and I was writing out one of those checks that I made the comment to you,

“I’m paying for your college education one week at a time…..By the time you graduate, you need to be good enough that some college will pay for you.”

It did.

Your freshman year at Huntington North was the last year that 9th graders could be in the top band…..and you were the only one who was.

Your knee problem started in high school when you hurt it running through the band room and then was made worse in that church softball game when you collapsed rounding third. The recovery was painful for you, no doubt….and also for us to watch. With scars, internal metal, and temperature changing discomfort, I suppose some of that will be with you for a lifetime. You were on a lot of meds and probably in some pain at your high school graduation when you hobbled across the platform on your crutches.

Besides your knee injuries, you had several major events during your middle/high school years. You lost your only ever dog. Shadow was a good family pet. At least we got to say goodbye. Taking you and your brother to Purdue to do that was way up there on my list of most difficult things to do.

Shortly after Grandpa Phil’s death in 1996 came Great-Grandma Mary moving in with us. We tried not to let that interfere too much with your busy school schedules, and when it became less safe to leave her alone, we had to put Grandma in a nursing home. I thought you and David handled her being here well, maybe better than me.

And there was the Garwood tragedy. You and Eva were good friends. I never asked, and you never told…. if that experience had anything to do with your not asking us if you could drive until nearing your 18th birthday.

You were never big into marching band, but you were involved in a lot of other playing opportunities. I remember your first year in VS Brass when the band won every competition.

You always did well with trumpet solos at festival and, except for one crazy judge, always got Gold and qualified to go to state.

At the Sousa-fest Band Clinic at Huntington College one year, you made a comment I’ll treasure always. It was about that flashy clarinet feature I played for one of those pieces. You commented that I sounded professional…. should be playing in the philharmonic. That meant a lot.

You were always more mature than most your age. Your only high school prom experience was as a Freshman. And by the time you were in your final years of high school, most of your friends had graduated — and I believe that was part of your negative feelings towards ending high school and of Huntington in your final years here.

Like me, you spent  summers at the Stephen Collins Foster Music Camp at Eastern Kentucky University. You also spent part of a summer at Cumberland College for a Jazz Camp. Those two schools helped you select Tennessee Tech for your college education.

The trumpet professor at EKU told you that he’d love to have you in his program, but that you needed to “consider a school like Tennessee Tech”. I had never heard of TTU and we brushed it off. But then, when the people at Cumberland said the same thing…. it was more like,

‘Ok, here are two schools in two different states who should be recruiting you who are both telling you to go to the same school.’

You made your first visit to Cookeville solo and came home thoroughly convinced that was where you wanted to go to college.

TTU Campus.jpgOnce you selected TTU, we set about trying to get you a good deal. After your initial visit and our follow-up trip, we were hearing from the University (who wanted you because of your National Merit Scholar ranking), the Honors Program (who wanted you because of your high SAT/ACT scores) and the Music Department. At the time of your entrance there, TTU cost about $10,500. The University offered you their “President’s” scholarship of $2500/yr because of your National Merit standing. TTU also waived your in-state tuition (@$2500) and the Honors Program waived the out-of-state tuition (@$3500). They waived your dorm fee @$3500 and the trumpet studio gave you $1000. All of these awards were “merit” vs “needs” based. 

For several of your semesters, you received money from the university.

We lost a battle with the 2-yrs in the dorm requirement. You had moved out due to your knee injury….but had to put in that second year eventually. And you lost a battle related to your Christian testimony, with the Music Therapy Prof, who messed up your internship and made you change your major again.

Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville

We were so glad when you started attending Stevens Street church during your freshman year at TTU. You started a small brass ensemble that eventually became a 20+ piece worship ensemble that you led — as a volunteer for way too long.
You also led the beginning of the School of Performing Arts, a great legacy to leave behind. 

Eventually, your church put you on the payroll, and when the Music Minister left, you took over all the responsibilities, but without getting the title or the pay to match.

Pastor John

On 1/25/2015 you were ordained as a Pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church. How proud we were to be a part of your service.


Here’s an approximate transcription of I shared at the closing of your ordination service.

Toward the end of a previous century when it was time for college selection, we thought we had done our due diligence as John had visited campuses and participated in music camps and clinics in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

He had not considered Tech, however, until two professors from two other schools in two different states suggested he consider Tennessee Tech.

Anybody think that is a coincidence?

So Joan and I loaded our college mobile and helped John move into a school we knew little about and where he knew no one….in a town we’d never heard of – 500 miles away from Huntington, Indiana.

But John visited your church. I get a call:

“Hey Dad, two men from Stevens Street visited me in my dorm room, how cool is that.”

He started attending your church, eventually moving his membership. I get another call:

“Hey Dad, I asked the people at Stevens Street if I could start an instrumental ensemble to play in their worship services.”

How’s that working for you? [as I glance over to the 20 piece orchestra section of the platform].

You helped and supported John all through his college years. As graduation approaches, I get this call:

“Hey Dad, they want to start a School of Performing Arts and they want me to help.”

How’s that working for you?

So, Stevens Street, as a parent of a long distance college student entrusted to your care, I submit to you that:

When you visit a student on campus

Provide a meal

Offer a place to plug in and be a part

Provide a place to call a church home away from home

…you never know what will happen. In John’s case, you have now been a part of his life for about half his life, and most of his adult life.

And as you ordain Pastor John, you are not ordaining him to send him out — you are not hiring him in from somewhere else. You have enabled him to serve you from within. In a significant way, John is a product of Stevens Street church.

I thank God for YOU.
As a parent, I thank YOU.

Even though you were ordained, they never properly rewarded you with the Music Minister title or pay. I was not surprised that you then considered a move to Knoxville.




hqdefault.jpgWhat an impressive, expensive place. Their rates may be reasonable in New York dollars. We did enjoy the times we spent there and admired your organizational and leadership skills at the dining hall and in the worship ensemble. I really liked the CHOPS name as well as the performances.

You made an impression on James Copenhaver, MY high school band director, when he visited TTU when he was able to say that he had met a music major son of a student he taught. He started me on clarinet in 5th grade and that was his very first year teaching.

The story of your meeting, dating, falling in love, marrying and parenting with Laurie continues with the additions of Nate, Carrie and Nora. We are very proud of the man you are and are already encouraged by the way you are raising your family. I know we made mistakes along the way, but some of the ‘strategies’ we used that appear to have been successful include…..

  • You had a lot of pre-school training, especially in reading. There were not very many bedtimes that didn’t include reading, rocking, and my prayer that God “let me raise this boy”.
  • We tried to be there. By changing my career just prior to your birth, I had control of my schedule and both your mother and I tried to attend every t-ball through baseball game, swim meet, concert and other significant events in your life.
  • We raised you IN and WITH the church. One of our great team efforts was with the Children’s Choir musicals. 
  • We tried to avoid the hypocrisies. We didn’t tell you not to drink while we had booze in the house. We didn’t have to establish two sets of vocabularies so you would never hear us swear — which made it especially traumatic, as I recall, when I did lose my cool. We didn’t tell you to not smoke because we learned the hard way. And your parents were virgins at their wedding. We did tell you about Santa, so obviously we weren’t perfect.
  • We stayed together. Both of us came from split families and both of us were committed to never putting children through what we went through as children.
  • We tried to have some family fun along the way. We didn’t take a vacation every year, although we tried to double-dip with some of our trips to Tennessee. We did get one Disney vacation in there…..and had a great educational vacation on our battlefields tours.

First Baptist Church, Powell, Tennessee

We are proud of what you are doing in your position as Worship Pastor at First Baptist, Powell, Tennessee. 

Happy Birthday Son. We are proud of you.


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