Reber’s cakes bring rich return for Chamber

Robert Smith

When John Reber visited Pawhuska in the 1940s, it was the big city to him.

“I came here as a 14-year-old, snotty nosed kid from Pennsylvania,” Reber said. “I thought this was the greatest place I’d ever seen in my life. I was from the sticks.”

Reber, who will be 90 in September, grew up to become the school band director in Pawhuska, a post from which he retired after 23 years.

“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.”

What lots of Pawhuskans know him for today is his magic touch with a cake. He does some baking each year to help out with the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce’s gala fundraiser. He recalled Saturday evening, just before the 2018 Chamber gala got under way, that his efforts brought a top bid of $750 a year ago.

This time, auctioneer Cody Garnett worked the gala crowd and got $1,000 for each of two cakes — an Italian cream cake with a little rum between the layers, and a carrot cake.

Reber credits his baking prowess to his mother and grandmother.

“I’ve been baking all my life,” he said, 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 visited Pawhuska in the summers of 1942-46, as the guest of an uncle who lived here. After high school, he hired on as a brakeman with the Reading Railroad, back in Pennsylvania. But when his brother, Richard, got into the filling station business in Pawhuska, John ended up coming here for good.

Eventually, before the end of the 1940s, his mom and dad relocated the whole family to Pawhuska.

“This is home,” John said, and every year when he bakes those cakes the auctioneers sell so well, he’s giving back a little dose of that love his family felt for Pawhuska and Osage County.

“On a Friday night I’d march a hundred kids down the field” he said, wistfully remembering his band-director days. John Reber allowed as how it would take much more than a brief interview for him to really tell how it was back in the day, maybe a week or two.