by Danny Wade
Editor’s Note: We are sad to note that Mrs. Catherine Anne Gibson died over the weekend after graciously being interviewed last week. Our heartfelt sympathies are with her beloved family and we believe she would want this story honoring her late husband, Gibby, published as planned.
The late Earnest Henry “Gibby” Gibson Jr. may have never had the opportunity to serve as president or general chairman of the West Tennessee Strawberry Festival, but that does not mean he was not involved. In fact, Gibby loved the festival.
This is why Strawberry Festival President Ashley Culpepper and General Chairman Melissa Swingler selected Gibson as the 80th Strawberry Festival Dedication.
“Mr. Gibby was my idol,” Culpepper said of growing up in Humboldt and visiting Gibson Hardware. “He sold guns, knives, fishing gear, boat motors—that’s what I love to do. I sat in college classes trying to figure out how I could buy Gibson Hardware and become a millionaire.”
Culpepper recalled during his high school days spending Saturday mornings in the hardware store.
“I think he made up excuses to go,” Swingler (his sister) joked.
Even though Gibson never served as president, he did serve on the Strawberry Festival Executive Board for decades in the 1950s and 1960s, according to his wife, Catherine Anne Gibson.
“Ms. Catherine was my third grade teacher,” Culpepper said. “We share the same birthday.”
“Mother and daddy always put floats in the parades,” said Penny (Gibson) Switzer, their daughter. “He loved every part of the festival. I remember his laugh, his smile. He loved it when his grandkids would ride in boats in the parade.”
In tribute to their father and grandfather, his daughters Penny and husband Ron Switzer, and Beth and husband Andy Dailey, grandkids Ann Elizabeth (Rich) Rucker, Virginia (Chris) Moon, Adam (Heather) Dailey, Ryan (Laura) Dailey and Bert Daily, and great-grandchildren Will Rucker, Frannie Rucker, Elijah Dailey and Mary Peyton Moon, will walk in the Junior Parade on Thursday and ride in a boat in this year’s Grand Floats Parade on Friday.
Switzer said her dad rarely missed a festival. In fact she recalls seeing him sitting on a ladder to see over the crowds. “If he was in West Tennessee, he was at the festival,” she laughed.
Although the parades were among his favorite events, Mrs. Gibson said Gibby loved the fireworks at Opening Ceremonies and the Horseshow.
Gibson was never one who loved being in the limelight, although at times he was thrust into it. He served on several boards during his illustrious life including the Chamber of Commerce, Country Club and Park Commission. Gibson was active in the Jaycees and Rotary clubs in Humboldt. In 1954 he was named Man of the Year and was Christmas in the Park honoree in 2007. He was a member of First Baptist Church.
Gibson is best known as the former owner of Gibson Hardware on 14th Ave. in downtown Humboldt. Gibson Hardware first opened in 1921 by Gibson’s father. The businesses closed its doors at the end of 2010.
His father, E.H. Gibson Sr., was known as “Big Gibby”, according to Ms. Catherine Anne.
As a youngster, Gibson worked in the store with his dad while in school. After high school, Gibson attended MIT. He then served his country in the U.S. Army in the mid 40s. After returning from the military, he continued his education by attending Vanderbilt University.
In 1950, Gibson took over operations of the family business. Nine years later in 1959, a devastating fire forced the business to close temporarily.
“When it burned, dad said ‘if you have something else you want to do, now would be the time or we can stay in business’,” Gibson said during a 2010 interview. “We had a big decision to make.”
Gibby and his father decided to rebuild. Gibson Hardware’s secret to success was to continually change with the times. In the early days they sold buggies, harnesses, saddles and tires. When the 30s came around, batteries for radios were a hot commodity. In the 60s and 70s, Gibson worked with the schools and stocked athletic equipment. A little later the business morphed again leaning toward fishing gear and boat motors and pontoon boats. The final stage of Gibson Hardware focused on lawn and garden outdoor equipment, parts and repair.
“He loved to hunt and fish,” Switzer said. “He considered his customers his friends.”
“He loved this town. He invested in Humboldt,” Culpepper said of Gibson. “He probably didn’t realize how he touched so many lives.”
“His generation was so good,” Swingler added. “They kept the festival going.”
“He was very humble and loved the Lord,” Switzer said of her dad. “To carry on the festival, you need people who are invested.”