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Brother John Bankard Gutberlet ’60: December 20 1931-October 23, 2018

We are sad to announce the passing of distinguished Sigma Nu alumnus, Brother John Bankard Gutberlet ’60 on October 23, 2018. John was born in Somerset, NJ near Christmastime in the depths of the Great Depression.  His parents were Irvin Walls Gutberlet and Anna "Estelle" Bankard.  Irvin, an accountant for the Ruberoid Company, had moved the family to New Jersey after failing to find employment in their native Baltimore.  John had an older sister, Kathy, who was born in 1927 and she remembers many stories of the typical 'little brother' treatment that John would receive from her and her neighborhood friends.  She recalled tying a young John to a tea cart and wheeling him around the neighborhood covering him in bandages while she and her friends played nurses.  John, never one to hold a grudge, didn't let this spoil his desire to be a part of his sister's life.  His sister also remembered that John would insist on tagging along at all of her Girl Scout outings, being adopted as an 'honorary' Girl Scout by the rest of the troop.  John's brother and sister remembered him having a happy youth despite the hardships of the Depression era.  John would find enjoyment however he could, whether he was listening to big band music on the radio, spending a nickel on Saturday to see the matinee at the local movie theater, going to see his father on stage at the local community theater, or going down to the local train station every Sunday after church to watch the trains pass through.  These experiences would continue to influence John's passion and interests throughout his life.  

 John's younger brother, David, was born in January 1942, and shortly thereafter their father's health began to deteriorate.  John's father passed away from heart disease in 1945 when John was just 14 years old.  His mother, Estelle - now widowed, jobless and with three children - moved them to Baltimore the next year to be closer to her extended family.  After graduating high school from Baltimore City College, John entered the University of Baltimore briefly to study accounting - his father's occupation.  In the midst of the Korean War, John left the University to join the United States Air Force, where he served from 1951 to 1955 opening up former World War 2 Air Force bases in Kansas and Alaska in support of the war effort.  

 After completing his enlistment in 1955, John found employment with the Western Maryland Railroad where he worked as a brakeman.  His brother remembers John telling of how he had to move from boxcar to boxcar while the train was moving in order to apply the brakes by hand.  It was clear that John greatly enjoyed working on the trains he used to watch on the Sundays of his youth.  While John enjoyed this risky career as only the young are wont to do, he also recognized that it was not a viable long term career and he soon enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to complete his Bachelor's Degree.    

During his time at Penn, he was a proud member of the Beta Rho chapter of the Sigma Nu fraternity.  Here, he would form many life-long friendships.  Even after his graduation in 1960 from the School of Finance, John would fondly remember his time as a part of the fraternity and was a life-long supporter of the house and the organization.  Later in life, he was awarded the 2017 Alumnus of the Year by the chapter: an honor which he proudly displayed on his living room wall.  

After leaving Penn, he moved to East Orange, New Jersey where he worked for Colgate-Palmolive.  While living there, John pursued another one of his life-long passions and joined the local community theater group.  There he met the love of his life, Grace Mabel Riehm.  They were married on the 14th of July, 1962 in East Orange, New Jersey.

 Shortly thereafter, John found employment with New Jersey Transit, and he and Grace moved to Fanwood, New Jersey.  They would live in the same house in Fanwood for over 30 years.  Grace found employment as an elementary school teacher and John's role with New Jersey Transit was to ride trains.  John would ride on the commuter trains every day - either out of Philadelphia or New York - and report on the number of commuters and the timeliness of the route.  John's sister would joke with him that what he was doing was "fun, not work" and that there was no way he should be paid for it.  His brother would describe him as a "kid in a candy factory".  While working, John attended night classes at New York University, earning a Master's Degree in Transportation.  Toward the end of his career, he shifted to planning work in an office, which he found profoundly less satisfying than riding on the rails.  John worked for New Jersey Transit for nearly 30 years before retiring.  Afterwards, he and Grace moved to the Seabrook Retirement Community in Tinton Falls, NJ.

 Grace fell ill in the early 2000s from heart disease and she passed away in 2005.  After her death, John moved from Seabrook to Maris Grove Retirement Community in Glen Mills, PA.  There, he focused his efforts on playwriting, compiling an extensive collection of big band music, and enjoying reading about the golden ages of rail and Hollywood.  He wrote and performed in the show "The S.S. Shippenshore" with the Maris Grove Players - an acting troupe of residents of the community.  He also helped develop and hosted a weekly television program for the retirement community called "Maris Grove Matinee" that highlighted the golden age of movies.  He was incredibly proud of both of these accomplishments and had a tremendous amount of fun doing them.

 As his sister's heath began to wane, John made the decision to move to Oak Crest Retirement Community in Parkville, MD where she also lives.  John was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2012 and entered a vigorous round of chemotherapy and radiation therapy even though his physician gave him six months to live.  Defying all expectations, John continued to live with and battle cancer for the next five years.  During all of this time, he continued to care for himself and his sister.  Even after his doctors could do nothing more for him and his health began to fail, he still faithfully did his own and his sister's laundry every week. 

 John will be remembered for many things: his love of big band music, his passion for trains and the railroad, his deep interest in acting and the movies of the 1930s and 1940s.  More importantly, he will be remembered for his own personality, his own demeanor, and his own attitude towards life.  His brother remembers him as truthful and pleasant: in sixty years of friendship the two of them never had an unpleasant conversation or interaction.  His sister remembers him as caring and humorous and enjoyed being around him always.  His nephews remember his wry sense of humor and his generosity as he would always find a way to slip us a little bit of "walking around money" when our parents were looking away.  Most of all, I believe his family will remember his strength of character.  He maintained such poise and positive attitude during his long suffering.  When he spoke with us, we never got the sense that anyone should ever feel sorry for him; and we never did.  

In addition to leaving behind many strong friendships, he is survived by his brother and sister, his three nephews and nieces-in-law, and eight grand nieces and nephews, all of whom remember 'Uncle John' with a wry smile on his face, a generous soul, and a heart full of love.