Celebrating the Memory of Barb and John Gerstkemper, BCA #15:
Barb Gerstkemper, my mother, passed away on July 3rd, 2004. John Gerstkemper, my father, died four months earlier on February 12, 2004. Many BCA members attended my mother’s funeral services and told stories that I had never heard. It occurs to me that there must be many more “John and Barb Gerstkemper Stories” that would both honor my parents and give BCA members a sense of earlier days in the BCA.
Below, you will find a short tribute to BCA #15 followed by some of my favorite stories. I invite you to send additional “John and Barb Stories” to the BCA Webmaster for the enjoyment of the Gerstkemper Family and other BCA members.
Jack Gerstkemper BCA #12331
John and Barb Gerstkemper were among the best known BCA couples. They served on the National BCA Board of Directors every year from 1968 to 1993 with the exception of a two-year period from June 1982 to June 1984 when they tried motor-homing around North America. John served 17 years on the Board of Directors, far longer than anyone else. Mom served 7 years; longer than all but three men. Together they attended every BCA National Meet from the first 1971 National Meet in Flint to the 1998 Meet in Danvers Massachusetts. No other couple can make that claim. In 1983, they became the only couple ever honored by the BCA Board of Directors with the title of “Mr. and Mrs. Buick Club”. In the year 2000, the BCA created The Gerstkemper Award to be given each year to the person who signs up the most new BCA members.
Mom single-handedly ran the BCA office in her home from 1974 to 1982 as a volunteer. She enrolled the new members, tracked all the address changes, mailed out the Bugles and collected the annual dues. She knew all of the first 14,800 BCA members by name if not by face.
Mom and Dad believed that Buicks should be preserved, restored and driven in their original condition. They helped develop the BCA’s 400 point judging system. They were part of the old guard that insisted on deductions for modifications like radial tires and halogen headlights. They believed any Buick is a good Buick, but a Buick restored to originality should receive greater recognition in a club dedicated to preserving Buicks as they were manufactured by the Buick Motor Division. The BCA’s 400 point judging system is a legacy of that belief.
Mom’s death was attributed to heart failure, but the true cause of her death was sacrificing her own health to care for her husband. Five years ago in 1999, she made a decision to forego heart by-pass surgery. Her husband needed full-time care for his diabetes and post-polio syndrome. She could not care for John if she died on the operating table, had a lengthy recovery period or suffered complications from the surgery. When she admitted herself into the emergency room with heart pains on July 1, 2004, her heart specialist said, “Barbara, you haven’t been to see me for two years. You need angioplasty but your health is too poor for me to operate.” The doctor scheduled surgery for two days later, hoping Mom would recover her health in the hospital before the surgery. But it was too late. Mom died 2 hours after being admonished by her heart specialist. It is typical of Mom that she neglected her personal well-being for two years while caring for Dad’s needs.
Barb Gerstkemper was a devoted wife in every sense of the word. Her service to the BCA came from that same spirit of service. She followed her husband into the hobby, and then worked tirelessly to make his hobby successful. John and Barbara’s active participation in the BCA spanned 37 years from 1965 when the club was first conceived as the Buick Collectors Club of California to 2002 when failing health forced Dad to relinquish his role as technical adviser for all models of 1931 Buicks. They were married for 58 years and spent 38 of those years with the BCA.
Mom’s funeral services in Hesperia California were well attended by BCA members who served with her during the club’s early years. I heard some wonderful stories about my parents and BCA at Mom’s services. I would like to tell a few tales about my parents and invite others to do the same. Please do me the honor of sending your favorite stories to BCA Webmaster.
Family Car or Show Car?
Back in 1963, Dad was restoring his first antique car; a 1923 Model 45 five passenger Buick touring car. He was meticulously restoring each part to shiny perfection.
One day mom wandered into the garage and asked Dad, “Is this going to be a show car or a family car?”
Dad replied “It is going to be both”
Mom said, “John, it can’t be both. You need to decide whether it is going to be a car the family can enjoy or a perfectly maintained show car.”
It only took Dad a moment understand Mom’s point and make his decision. The 1923 Touring would be a family car.
Our family drove that ’23 touring car all over Orange County, California. We took it to the beach, to Disneyland, and on the LA Freeways. The family has great memories of that car. Every other car dad restored became family cars. He took them to shows, but used them as family cars. Buicks were meant to be driven.
Who is that Guy?
The first National Meet in Flint, Michigan was more than a car meet. The fledgling BCA was trying to impress the Buick Motor Division of General Motors. The manufacturer’s support would be invaluable to the five-year-old car club.
Only three BCA board members attended the First National Meet. My father was one of them. My mother joined him, of course. The meet headquarters was the Durant Hotel in Flint. Automobile historian Clarence Young gave a long talk on the history of the Buick Motor Car at the banquet on the last day of the meet. Things were going well. Buick Motor Division was supplying complimentary alcohol and my mother was not one to turn down a free drink. Following the banquet, a small reception was held in a private room in the Durant hotel for the big shots of the BCA and the Buick Motor Division. This was the final opportunity for the BCA to impress the Buick Motor Division. During one of those lulls in a party when a room becomes uncharacteristically quiet, my mother’s inebriated voice was heard booming from a conversation in a corner of the room, “Billy Durant? Billy Durant? Who the hell is Billy Durant?”
Ah, those Californians. They do need our help.
When vanity plates were first issued in California, Dad ordered one for his newly restored 1931 56C Convertible Coupe. He requested “JON BAR” to reflect their joint ownership and restoration of the car. If you collect old issues of the Bugle, check out the September, 1972 issue. JON BAR is on the front and back covers. Inside on pages 4-7 JON BAR, the talking car, tells how his owners drove him 5,561 miles on a round trip journey to the Second BCA National Meet in Flint. JON BAR encouraged all his cousins to join the Buick family at next year’s 1973 family reunion in Flint.
Mom and Dad’s next restoration, a 1931 Model 96 sedan, was licensed with the plate “JONBAR2”. He was dutifully driven to the 1978 BCA National Meet in Flint to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Buick with his cousins at the ancestral home.
The JON BAR cars were well known in Southern California, and they saw a great deal of the country between Flint and Anaheim.
The 75th Anniversary Calendar
Celebrating 75 years of quality motor cars, the Buick Motor Division featured BCA members’ antique cars in its’ promotional literature for the 1978 line of Buicks. A professional photo shoot was held in Santa Barbara, California. In addition to the glossy promotional literature, a calendar featuring 12 antique Buicks was produced. The pictures from that calendar are still in circulation today. They were made into place mats and sold individually in 11” x 17” pictures suitable for framing. In fact, the entire calendar was reproduced 25 years later for the 100th anniversary in 2003. Each attendee at the 100th Anniversary Meet received a replica of the 25-year-old calendar in “goody bags” distributed at the registration table in Flint. Dad had two cars in that calendar: the 1923 Touring Car and JON BAR; the 1931 Convertible Coupe. Today, my sister owns the 1923 touring. I own JON BAR, the 1931 Convertible Coupe. BCA members in the Midwest have told me I own the most famous 1931 Buick in the club. I guess that’s true.
Occasionally, someone presents me with a copy of that calendar picture they found in a vendor’s bin at a swap meet. “Look,” they say, “I found a picture of a car that looks a lot like yours”.
“Sure does,” I reply, “and the driver looks a lot like my father.”
Back in 1964 when Dad was restoring his 1923 touring car, he gave me the honor of sanding the paint off the wooden wheels. We varnished the spokes to show off the beautiful straight grained oak. We did not know, in 1964, that Buick sold these cars with painted spokes, never with unpainted natural wood.
Years later, when the 1923 touring appeared in the 75th Anniversary calendar, several people telephoned Dad to tell him that natural wood spokes were not standard on a 1923 Buick. Dad’s answer was always the same. “My son sanded and varnished those wheels. I’ll never paint them”.
Like I said before, the 1923 Touring was a family car, not a show car. The ‘23 still has varnished natural oak spokes.
Rules are Rules
Early BCA National Meets were often run by local chapters who had little or no experience in running a large National BCA meet. Because Mom and Dad worked at every National Meet, their arrival at a National was eagerly anticipated as a source of expertise.
Mom arrived at the administrative headquarters of one National Meet to find the meet directors in a quandary. It seems the Riviera Owners Association (ROA) had held their National Meet in the same hotel on the days immediately preceding the BCA meet. The ROA intended to stay for the BCA meet. They expected to show their Rivera’s at the BCA meet, even though many of the ROA members were not members of the BCA.
The meet directors asked, “What should we do, Barbara?”
No problem. The rules clearly state that only BCA members can show their cars at the National Meets. Mom informed the Riviera club they could either join the BCA or hit the road. Many Riviera owners left in a huff. Others stayed and joined the BCA.
Later, when Dad bought a 1965 Riviera Gran Sport, Mom refused to join the Riviera Owners Association. She thought she might get a hostile reception from Riviera owners who remembered that meet.
The Riviera Owners Association remains unaffiliated with the BCA. Perhaps one day they will see the light and join us on the BCA show fields.
Rules are Rules, #2
Mom and Dad restored all their cars themselves. They farmed out very little of their restoration work. As a result, they had a soft spot in their hearts for their fellow amateur car restorers.
Mom was on the judging committee of an early BCA National Meet when the judging resulted in two cars being tied for “Best of Show”. One car was owner-restored. The other had been restored by a very well known and highly respected professional automobile restorer. Mom was one of the three judges chosen to break the tie. The three judges walked back to the show field to decide between the two cars.
The professional restorer had delivered his client’s car to the meet in a large company trailer. After the car was judged, his attendants drove the client’s car back into the trailer. Big mistake. The owner-restored Buick was still on the show field when the three judges came out to break the tie. The professionally restored car was not. Mom immediately pointed out the judging rule that clearly stated “All cars are to remain on the show field until the judging is complete.” The professionally restored car had left the field. Case dismissed. The amateur was awarded “Best of Show” with no additional judging.
The professional restorer was incensed. “I could have brought the car out of the van if you had asked!”
“Sorry, pal. Rules are rules”
The Cantaloupe Sedan
The Gerstkemper’s 1931 model 90 sedan was suffering from vapor lock while driving through the American Midwest in route to Flint’s 1978 BCA National Meet. The ’31 was cooling next to a cornfield when a local farmer pulled up.
“Vapor lock, eh? I know a way to fix that, but you probably won’t like it.”
“What is it?” asked Dad, always willing to learn something new about Buicks.
“Well,” said the farmer, “cut a cantaloupe in half, scoop out the seeds and use bailing wire to hold the two halves around the carburetor:
Dad said he’d give it a try. The farmer drove off and returned with an armful of cantaloupes.
The farmer left dad with one last piece of advice. “Change melons when you smell burning cantaloupe.”
Dad claimed he got 40 miles per cantaloupe that afternoon.
My parents welcomed any and all members to the BCA. An interest in Buicks made you all right by them. A long time BCA member tells me that Mom and Dad were the first to greet him at his initial BCA Meet. He tells this story from a subsequent meet:
“Late in the afternoon when the day’s activities were complete, a friend and I were smoking something illegal in the parking lot out behind the Buicks. I looked up and saw Barb Gerstkemper watching us from her hotel room balcony. I thought “Oh, oh. Busted!” But Barb stepped to the balcony railing, raised her bourbon glass in a toast, and called down to us. ‘To each his own!’ How cool is that?”
That young Buick enthusiast grew up to become a well respected BCA veteran and a member of the BCA Board of Directors.
Award banquets at the first BCA National Meets had a long table at the front of the banquet hall where the BCA President and other dignitaries sat facing the room. It seemed elitist to Mom and Dad. They were glad when the “head table” concept was abandoned. After that, Mom and Dad made a point of sitting at tables where they saw new faces. They wanted to meet new friends, not merely talk to their old friends.
At the 75th Anniversary banquet, they sat at a table with two young men from Sweden who Mom had met on the first day of the meet. The two Swedes were disappointed they had registered too late to buy one of the meet’s commemorative tee shirts. The shirts were sold out and the Swedes had missed the opportunity to buy a coveted souvenir. Mom quietly excused herself from the table, went up to her room, retrieved the two tee shirts she and Dad had purchased, returned to the table and gave the shirts to the Swedes. The two young Swedes were overjoyed and became fast friends with Mom and Dad. They toured America after the meet and stayed in my parents home while visiting Anaheim and Disneyland.
One of the two Swedes was Mats Ahrin. He became a life-long friend of my parents and was writing Mom post cards during his 2004 trip to America which included, of course, a trip to the BCA National Meet in Plano, Texas. Some of Mats’ postcards arrived in June and were eagerly read by Mom. One of the Mats’ cards arrived after Mom’s death while I was at her house making funeral arrangements.
Thank you, old friend. I’m sorry you’ve lost your American pen pal.
Mom and Dad had BCA friends from all corners of the world. I’m hoping some of those friends will write to this website with their favorite stories. Stories telling how they met Mom and Dad. Stories telling how Mom and Dad affected their lives. Stories about the early days of the BCA. If your story is too personal to post on a website, you can email it to me at here. I’ll keep those precious stories confidential and treasure them as much as you do.
Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.
1974, John at home in Buick Heaven with his first two restorations and his next project. Left to right, 1931 convertible, 1923 opera coupe, 1923 Touring
It seems that in the early years of the BCA, Stroh’s beer was not available on the west coast, and Coors was not available in Michigan. needless to say with the grass always greener on the other side of the fence, Barb liked Stroh’s and I liked Coors. Even in the convertible without much luggage space, Barb always found room for a case of Coors for me, which was exchanged for a case of Stroh’s. Joe Taubitz – BCA#1308
Picture is of Barbara with their 1931 90 series Buick. They had just won Best of Show at the Chadwick Concourse, competing in full classic division against the big CCCA cars. The Gerstkempers claimed trophies meant nothing to them, but they were pretty proud that day.
John and Barb were our good friends for over thirty years. They are missed.
Ann & Wayne Yonce BCA #1720
I have a few memories to add to my brother Jack’s wonderful tribute to my parents.
Jack referred to how Dad’s first Buick was driven around Orange County.
What he failed to mention was how traffic-stopping that car was, especially when ever playful Dad added an air horn that sounded like a train whistle. When he would stop at train tracks, he loved to cause drivers around us to jump three feet in the air when he hit that horn.
Jack also talked about that first Flint National, one that my sister and I attended with Mom and Dad. The swap meet portion was made even more memorable for me when I asked Dad if there was anything I could do, and he handed me a rusty old part and intoned, “Go find three more just like this.”
Mom and Dad’s decades with the BCA and its many members are part of our family’s lore, and form a loving memorial that I would wish for all Buick families.
Barbara Lynn (Gerstkemper) Tubbe
I last saw John and Barb at the BCA Nationals in Danvers, MA, in 1998, as the to be President of the BCA at the time, I was overwhelmed by their glad to see you here, as they always did to every BCA member, but for me being the pres at the time the overwhelm was way more than I expected, and I will remember it forever!!!!!!!!!!
Roberta BCA #16798, past VP, President, Treasurer, and BCA Board of Director, 1997-2003, and webmaster, yet still.
As Mark Twain once wrote to a friend, “I’m writing you a long letter, as I simply do not have the time to write you a short letter”…….. After my 68 SportWagon 400 “found” me in the fall of 1993, I started restoring it.
I found Roberta Vasilow’s #in the Bugle. She was selling parts from a ’68 SportWagon & helped me get numerous parts for my wagon. We spoke often on the phone.
In the late spring of 1995, I attended an International Square Dance Convention in Washington, D.C. from June 27th thru July 3rd.. I had flown to New York a week prior to visit friends.
While in NY, I called Roberta V. & told her I’d be in D.C. June 27 thru July 4th or a day or so later.
Roberta then informed me since I’d never been to a Buick National, & because I was THAT CLOSE to Atlanta, I’d better get my a..- down to Atlanta! Or else!!
Further, Roberta informed me that her brother Chris, couldn’t make it & I could have his room at the host hotel (which was fully booked at the time).. Needless to say, I attended my first National in ATL in ’95.
Now as it happened, in 1994, during our (first ever) CHVA tour w/ the SportWagon, it was an 8-day tour of New Mexico–(not including the 3-day trip to Carlsbad with the Calif. group & the 4-day trip back on our own.) My buddy & I met two really neat people: Gayle & Willie Price from Atlanta.
On the 8th day of our New Mexico tour–for the awards banquet in Albuquerque, it seemed that there was a problem with the seating–all the chairs were turned up against all the tables and–although we were there early, there appeared no place for us to sit. As we prepared to leave the banquet hall–to go out to eat on our own– we heard a wonderful Southern accented voice, say, “Hey Yoa’ll, why don’t yoa’ll sit with us’ns? It was Gayle Price. We sat & Gayle & Willie saved what would have been a total disastrous evening. The reason I’m relating this incident gets right to the nitty-gritty of the BCA in ATL in ’95: I flew down from DC & rented a car. There were numerous tours for various Civil War Battlefield areas, arranged for the BCA members. I had not signed for any of them–they were all filled anyway.( Bad for me–I’m a history major). There was a certain Buick Driving Tour out to Stone Mountain (battlefield & monument) and lo & be hold! Willie & Gayle Price were the Director & First
Lady of the Atlanta Chapter of the BCA.–.The Host Chapter–…………….!!!!!!
I was invited to tour with them & their 13-year old grandson, in Willie’s
& Gayle’s ’39 Century while THEY LED SOMEWHERE AROUND 45 TO 50 CARS AMONG THE CIVIL WAR BATTLE FIELDS! OH, but I digress, the other two people in the rear seat of that 39
Century with me, were Barbara & John Gerstkemper…….whom I did not know from a load of hay!
We had such a delightful afternoon (actually a 6 hour day) just talking & I telling them this was my first National & how dumb I was about everything. Barbara–despite the constant interruption of Gayle & Willie’s hyper grandson, took a great deal of time to explain to me the BCA judging system–this all in the back seat of the Prices’ 39 Century! Now, as it happened at the time, there was this “so called ‘fringe group'” who were (w/ apologies to Roberta) against the 400 point judging system. There were many signs around the convention hotel with the round circle with the red slash through ( as in “no parking”–in Europe) that mimicked that, but said:( circle, red line, 400). So I asked Barb what that meant. Dumb as I was, Jack, I asked your mom, “Does that mean that some people want to ban the 400 (G.S.) engine”? “Oh no, she told me, ” that’s the (fringe) group that wants to kill the 400-pt. judging”. Thereupon Barbara gave me the Judges manual for 1995………………
Oh, P.S. upon returning to the host hotel that evening, Roberta V. asked where I’d gone & with whom I’d been that day–when I told her I’d been w/your parents–she nearly fell apart, yelling : ” Do you know the Gerstkempers ARE BCA MEMBERS # 15?” Of course I didn’t know that. I only
knew that I’d spent an incredibly wonderful day with 4 terrific people and with you parents, Jack, in the back seat of a ’39 Century………….!
What a day!!!!!!
P.S. I hope whoever through this is still conscious.
My condolences to you, Jack, & your family, John & Barb were really special to me…. Regards & love,