Robert Paul Gardner, “Bob”, entered this life on February 21, 1922 at home in Sedalia, Missouri. He was baptized into new life on March 12, 1922 at St. Paul Lutheran Church and entered his eternal, heavenly rest on March 10, 2017 with loved ones by his side.
Bob grew up in Sedalia, MO as the second of three sons to Lawrence Fred and Nora Helen Bruns Gardner. The son of an airplane maintenance specialist and carpenter and a seamstress, Bob came from very humble beginnings. Raised in a four room house built by his father, Robert was a bright boy who enjoyed playing baseball in the vacant lot across from his house. When he was not busy studying or playing baseball, he had a newspaper route, cut grass, and washed windows of wealthy homeowners on Broadway Boulevard “for a few cents an hour” to help support the family during the Great Depression. He attended St. Paul’s Lutheran School and then transitioned to Horace Mann Elementary School. He graduated from Smith Cotton High in 1940. As a child at St. Paul’s, he met the girl he would later fall in love with and marry, Alma W. Kurtz. They began dating shortly after he graduated high school. Much to his annoyance, Bob’s mother insisted Bob wait to marry until after the war ended, ”lest he come home without a limb.” At an early age, Bob had a profound love of music. He joined the church choir at St. Paul at the age of eight. He would continue to sing in his church’s choir until the age of ninety-three, when he decided he had sung long enough and thought it was time to retire. Bob inherited his dad’s ability to build things, and he could fix almost anything.
In 1942 Bob entered the United States Army. Serving with the 66th Infantry Division, he departed overseas for Europe in 1944. On Christmas Eve 1944, Bob’s unit crossed the English Channel. Some of Bob’s friends in that unit were on a different ship, the USS Leopoldville. Five miles from Cherbourg, France the Leopoldville was torpedoed by U-486, a German submarine. Bob’s ship arrived in France, and he spent the next fifteen months in the European theater of war.
In March 1946, Bob returned from Europe and found himself in New York City with his fellow GIs. He returned to Sedalia and married Alma on June 2, 1946, his older brother and her older sister at their side. The couple moved to Kansas City, where he worked for a food company, Standard Brands and earned an accounting degree at night from the University of Missouri Kansas City. He was promoted and then transferred to Hoboken, New Jersey and then, New York City to the corporate office. He and Alma had decided to start a family, and Janice was born in 1951. After more than a decade in NJ and NYC, the family moved to Suffolk, Virginia, where Bob began a career with Planters Peanuts, then Planters Nut and Chocolate Company. There he served as VP, CFO, lobbyist, and president of the National Peanut Corporation (NPC). During his tenure, he was also in charge of nut procurement and traveled to at least a dozen nations on five continents, brokering multi-million nut deals for the company. As president of NPC, Bob came in contact with a variety of politicians, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. While they were in Virginia, Bob also participated in barbershop singing competitively.
Perhaps his most significant achievement came while leading a vehicle procession of his colleagues on a retreat in the Virginia mountains. A drunk driver was speeding toward the group on the Skyline Drive and rather than swerve to avoid the driver and put his colleagues at risk, Bob impacted the driver head on. Following several months of recovery, Bob and Alma resumed their community activities back in Suffolk. By retirement he had spent 38 years with the company which today is Kraft Foods. He saw the company go from Standard Brands to Nabisco Brands to Kraft Foods.
After retirement in 1987, Bob and Alma moved to Arlington, Texas to be a part of their grandchildren’s lives. They were busy with Daniel, Sarah, and Kristin over the next twenty years. Bob became an avid basketball fan of his grandkids’ court time. There were a number of trips with Grandma and Grandpa to NASA, Corpus Christi, and Branson. He was a supporter of Grace Lutheran School where they attended. Through his Kiwanis activities, he started the “K” Kids at Grace. For many years he took Grace students to Kiwanis lunch. He was also very active in Arlington Charities, serving on its board for many years. After arriving in Arlington, Bob and Alma joined Grace Lutheran Church. Bob served as a reader and a choir member for the next 28 years. Bob and Alma were also very active in the Senior Saints 55+ group. Sadly he lost Alma in December, 2001. However, he maintained his own home for the next 15 years. In 2006 his granddaughters convinced him that he needed a companion. Charlie Brown, II, a white standard poodle, arrived on the scene. They were the best of friends. In fact, Charlie Brown was faithfully at his bedside on the day of his death.
Bob is survived by his daughter, Jan Runzheimer and her husband, Jim; grandchildren, Daniel Runzheimer of Texas, Kristin Runzheimer of Texas, and Sarah Weber of Virginia and her husband Ryan; two great granddaughters, Selah and Jordan Weber; and four nieces, Judith Hanrahan of Missouri, Helen Zimmerman of Missouri, Patti McGuirre of Missouri, Kathy Bogey of Texas, and a nephew, Thomas Gardner of Missouri; and a number of extended family and a multitude of friends.
Services are at Grace Lutheran Church on Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 2 pm.
Visitation is at Wade Funeral Home on Friday, 3/17 from 6 to 8 pm.
Burial will be in Sedalia, Missouri at Memorial Park Cemetery on Friday, March 24, 2017 with McGlaughlin Funeral Home in Sedalia is in charge of arrangements.
In lieu of flowers the family requests memorials to the Grace Lutheran Church Music Ministry or to the Custodes Libertatis Memorial Foundation at the USNA to support the education of children of fallen warriors. This is the website: Custodes Libertatis Memorial Foundation