Pawhuska last week mourned the loss of a premier ambassador of good cheer and community spirit, when an overflow crowd gathered Sept. 25 at the Presbyterian Disciples Church to remember John Reber.
Reber, 91, who died Sept. 21, first came to Pawhuska from his native Pennsylvania when he was 14 years old.
“I came here as a 14-year-old, snotty nosed kid from Pennsylvania,” a smiling Reber told the Journal-Capital in a 2018 interview. “I thought this was the greatest place I’d ever seen in my life. I was from the sticks.”
He developed a powerful attachment to Oklahoma, graduating from Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State University) in 1954 and embarking on a teaching career. He had been a member of the marching band at Oklahoma A&M, and he served for more than two decades as Pawhuska High School’s band director.
The band room at PHS is named for him, and the school paid tribute last Friday night at the football game to Reber’s contributions. Reber’s memories of his work as Pawhuska’s band director remained strong throughout his life.
“On a Friday night I’d march a hundred kids down the field” he said last year, wistfully remembering his band-director days. He also taught band at Barnsdall and Skiatook before taking the leadership role at Pawhuska Public Schools.
After his retirement from teaching, Reber worked as a tour bus driver. He commented on it with his usual good humor when giving an interview to the Journal-Capital right before the Pawhuska Chamber Commerce annual gala in 2018.
“Then I retired and became totally obsessed with wanting to drive a tour bus,” he quipped playfully. “When I turned 80, they took the keys away from me.”
In his later years, he was also known as a man with a special touch in the kitchen. His cakes annually attracted bidders at the Chamber gala. He recalled that one of his cakes sold for $750 in 2017. The next year, auctioneer Cody Garnett sold one of Reber’s Italian creme cakes, with a little rum between the layers, and a carrot cake for $1,000 each.
“I’ve been baking all my life,” he told the Journal-Capital, reflecting on his Pennsylvania German upbringing, before he began visiting Oklahoma as a teenager and eventually relocated here. “My mother and grandmother were in the kitchen all the time.”
Reber and his wife, the late Betty McGee Reber, were married for 58 years.