Vern Gibson is well-acquainted with grills.
“I’m an expert at making pancakes and grilling hamburgers. I love it,” said the longtime Fremonter.
But Gibson is more than that.
He’s a volunteer extraordinaire. And for his long-tenured efforts he recently received international recognition.
In July, Gibson won the “Community Service Award” at the Cosmopolitan Clubs International Convention in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. He’d previously won the award at the state level during the Cosmopolitan Federation Convention and before that earned the honor on the local level when he was awarded the “Cosmopolitan Member Community Service Award” from the Fremont Cosmopolitan Club 100.
In presenting the local award, Merle Gier, awards chairman for the Fremont organization, described Gibson like this: “I have never met a man who has dedicated so much of his life to serving his fellow man than Vern. It was difficult for me to understand how he, just one man, could accomplish so much in just one lifetime.
“If I did not know otherwise, I would swear that Vern had a twin brother to help him out.”
Gibson’s volunteerism has involved a variety of organizations from Boy Scouts and veterans’ organizations to his work at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Fremont and as a member of Cosmopolitan and Kiwanis clubs and Masonic organizations.
Why all the volunteerism?
“I enjoy helping nonprofits and people in general,” he said. “I just figure that if I didn’t have these activities, I would grow old and sit at home. I enjoy all these activities. It keeps me busy and young.”
Gibson appreciates the Fremont community.
Born and raised in Santa Anna, California, Gibson worked in the airline industry for 31 years. During that time, he met his wife, Jane, a former United Airlines stewardess.
“We had a whirlwind courtship,” he said.
The two met at a party for airline employees in Las Vegas in December 1967, were engaged in January 1968 and married on Aug. 20, 1968, at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Fremont.
When Pan American Airlines decided to scale down, Gibson was offered a transfer to JFK Airport in New York City.
“I decided it was time for me to change jobs,” he said.
By then, Jane was a schoolteacher and the couple had two children. They waited until that June when she completed her contract. And in 1983, they headed to Fremont with two children, two cars and two dogs.
Gibson was at his mother-in-law’s house when the phone rang. It was Western Airlines. While the airlines was based in Los Angeles, it was opening flight service in Omaha and wondered if Gibson would work for them.
So he did starting in August 1983.
“We merged with Delta Airlines in 1987,” he said.
Gibson was 55 years old when Delta wanted to send him to Atlanta, Georgia. He decided to retire and did so in 1998.
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But he didn’t stay retired for very long. One of Jane’s childhood friends, Bill Dugan offered Gibson a job as a funeral director.
That meant going back to school and getting a mortuary science degree.
So he went to Kansas City Community College in Missouri and earned a mortuary science degree in 1999. He’s been with Dugan Funeral Services since that time.
Gibson’s volunteerism spans decades and lists of his activities form thick paragraphs on the pages of a Cosmopolitan Club synopsis. In California, he was a leader for Cub, Webelos and Boy Scouts and an active board member of the elementary school PTA.
Throughout his life, he’s been a church supporter. Data from the Cosmopolitan Club indicates he’s served in every leadership position at St. James’.
Bringing a tradition from California to Nebraska, he and Jane created the “Foyer’s Club” — sponsoring weekly dinners designed to build faith-based family friendship within the parish and help make new couples feel welcome in the church.
He has been the resident cook for the church’s annual holiday bazaar for more than 20 years.
Gibson’s volunteerism with veterans groups stems from his own military service. A sergeant in the 6th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, he served from 1963-65 in Berlin during the Cold War.
Today, he’s president of the Berlin U.S. Military Veterans Association.
“Everyone in this group served in Berlin between the end of World War II until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989,” Gibson said. “It’s a good group and I have over 740 members representing the entire United States. … The camaraderie is absolutely amazing.”
The group had a reunion in June in Omaha and about 200 people attended.
“We’ll be going back to Berlin in 2018,” Gibson said. “We go back every four years and because some of our members are getting older we’re really anticipating a good turnout this time.”
Gibson is a lifetime member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars and co-chairman of Fremont’s Avenue of Flags.
For 20 years, Gibson was chairman of the former Dodge County chapter of the American Red Cross, which is now part of a regional consolidation. He’s active in Fremont and Omaha Shrine Clubs and many other organizations.
And at least a couple organizations have utilized his cooking skills.
Gibson recalls when as the part of the Kiwanis Club he cooked hamburgers at an annual June swap meet for 25 years. He’s flipped pancakes during fundraisers for the group as well for years.
He serves up pancakes for the Cosmopolitan Club, too, during the group’s fundraiser at the John C. Fremont Days festival.
Gibson said he was humbled by receiving the Cosmopolitan Club awards for his volunteerism.
“I’m sure there are others in the community that if they had the time would do the same thing I do, but I just happen to be available. With the job I have it allows me to take some time and be involved in these volunteer endeavors,” he said, adding, “I love helping others. I’ve been lucky in my life, having a lot of advantages that others may not have, a great family life, and the ability to do all of these things.”
He likes Fremont.
“I’m just proud of being a good citizen of Fremont, Nebraska, not coming from here originally,” he said. “My friends thought it was a cultural shock when I moved here. And we’ve had several friends visit us. We’ve changed their minds to the positive about Nebraska. I’m glad I moved here.”