John Manley Garber started life with almost nothing, but
he grew up to become one of the most successful, respected, and beloved
men in Northern Virginia.
How did he do it?
He says with a humble smile: hard work. But unlike many
men who went from rags to riches, Manley Garber has never lost his down-home
ways, his mirth, or his eagerness to help others. He’ll be the first to say
his riches are his family, friends, church, and community.
To understand what drives this Virginia gentleman
entrepreneur to serve, one must push “control, home” on his life’s keyboard
and return to his beginning.
Baths and Bottles: Growing Up without Electricity
Being a good neighbor came naturally to Garber. He
learned to get along soon after he and his twin brother came into the world
in 1925 and joined their older brother and his twin sister. Manley Garber’s
parents wove into the family everlasting threads of community.
“Life was very hard without electricity,” declares Garber
about growing up on his family farm in Woodbridge, Va., during the Great
Depression. “We had many chores. We had to bring in firewood for the kitchen
stove and heating stove. We milked cows, gathered eggs, and fed cattle
before and after school. We raised almost everything we ate.”
The family had to make do without an electric well and
indoor plumbing. “We bathed outdoors in summer in the Potomac River near the
farm,” chuckles Garber as he reminisces. “I’ll never forget driving by a
farm when I was a teenager and seeing a lady taking a tub bath right there
in her front yard!” His innovative neighbor had poured water into an outdoor
tub in the morning and waited until the sun warmed it enough to take a bath
in the afternoon.
“In winter, we lugged buckets of water indoors for
heating on the wood-burning stove: Our parents made us take a bath in the
kitchen tub every Saturday night, whether we needed it or not, to get ready
for church,” Garber laughs. Also in winter, the family
cut ice from the nearby pond. “We packed it in sawdust and straw in our ice
house until summer,” Garber recalls fondly. “Then, we crushed it to use in
our ice-cream maker.”
Garber’s father and his father’s twin brother began
collecting garbage to feed farm hogs. The family, teaming with twins,
collected soft drink glass bottles they washed and sold. “Talk about
recycling!” exclaims Garber. “By the time we were 14 we were getting up at 3
a.m. and driving trucks to Washington to collect garbage or sell glass in
Baltimore for one cent a pound.”
On these Garber garbage runs, the teenagers saw how city
folks handled hot summer nights without air conditioning. “City parks looked
like enormous patchwork quilts of people sleeping on blankets,” Garber
recalls. “It was the only way for apartment dwellers to stay cool. They were
perfectly safe back then.”
The garbage business helped Garber save $2,000. With it
he bought 80 acres when he was just 18. A few years later, in 1945, he sold
the parcel and bought 149 acres. (A Home Depot sits there today.) The young
farmer asked the investor-owned utility to run an electric line to his farm
where he was raising almost 3,000 hogs. The utility refused. Garber turned
to the new Prince William Electric Cooperative (PWEC) to run a line and
they agreed. By 1950, the 25-year-old was on the co-op’s board of directors.
A lifetime of Cooperative service
As a director, Garber encouraged more community farmers
to join the burgeoning cooperative. In 1974, the entrepreneur began his long
tenure as the co-op’s board chairman.
In 1983, PWEC consolidated with Tri-County Electric
Cooperative and formed Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative. Garber was
resoundingly elected NOVEC’s board chairman.
If that wasn’t enough community service, Garber joined
the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives’
board. He continues to serve on the VMDAEC board to this day. In 1996, the
association honored Garber with the Electric Cooperative Leadership Award
for his contributions as a director, including two terms as VMDAEC chairman.
Garber says, “Serving on these boards has been the most
rewarding thing I’ve done in my life, helping people get quality electric
service at reasonable rates.” In 2008, the 83-year-old turned over the NOVEC
chairman’s helm to Vice Chairman Wade House; Garber became vice chairman.
This September, he will have served on the NOVEC board for 62 years.
Life beyond the Co-op
While helping Virginians obtain reliable electric
service, Garber and his wife, Jeannette, kept busy raising four children and
45,000 turkeys, running a camper/ trailer business, and building a mobile
home park. Jeannette passed away in 1997.
A few years later, Garber married widow and family friend
Kay Kim (left). Between them they have seven children, 16 grandchildren and
— as of spring 2012 — 22 great grandchildren.
Today, Garber buys and leases commercial property. His
passion for buying and selling cars for clients takes him to car auctions
Garber has served on the Prince William Hospital,
Bridgewater College, and Church of the Brethren boards. He helped form the
old First Manassas Bank, and the Commonwealth Savings and Loan.
When he hasn’t been sitting on a board, Garber has often
been marching on a path: Garber is the top earner for the Prince William
County March of Dimes March for Babies. He has raised many thousands of
dollars for the charity for 22 years as he has led his NOVEC team marching
through Old Town Manassas.
Handyman and Snowman
Garber’s rural roots and his good-neighbor ways spread
everywhere he goes.
“I was in a hardware store the other day when a man came
in and started looking at plumbing parts,” Garber recounted with a smile.
“We started talking and he said he had a plumbing problem, but didn’t know
how to fix it. I asked him some questions, found the plumbing parts he
needed, and explained what to do with them. You see, I learned how to fix
things growing up on a farm. I learned to be a mechanic working on machinery
and trucks. I learned to do carpentry, electrical work and plumbing. At 87,
I still do most everything around the home. With all I’ve learned, I like to
help people fix things. It saves them a lot of money!”
When it snows, Garber climbs aboard his Kubota tractor,
revs up his snow blower and clears his neighbors’ driveways. “After the
February 2010 snowstorms, I bought a bigger Kubota with a bucket on front
and a 72-inch blower on the back,” Garber says with obvious delight. “The
cab has a heater and stereo to keep me happy. After the Jan. 26, 2011, ice
storm, on my 86th birthday, I cleared neighbors’ driveways and a shopping
center parking lot for 16 hours.” In early January of this year he announced
with excited anticipation of snow, “Both tractors are fueled and ready to
This rural Renaissance handyman and entrepreneur reflects
on his life: “I was born when cars and airplanes were just arriving. The
roads weren’t good. We had no electricity, no TVs, no computers. Life was
hard, simple, but rewarding. After a lifetime of working, raising a family,
and serving my community, I feel like I’m one of the most fortunate persons
in the world.”
Tell Us About Your Good Neighbors!
Concern for community is one of the seven principles that
form the foundation of all cooperative business operations. So in this, the
international year of the cooperative, your co-op publication is reviving
its Good Neighbors feature, a staple of the magazine for several years
during the 1990s.
Each issue, we’ll profile people who influence their
communities in ways that make them better places to live.
In this issue we kick off the series with our cover story
about Manley Garber. Manley, who turned 87 in January, is the type of human
dynamo who often puts younger folks to shame with his energy and enthusiasm.
The Woodbridge-area resident is a self-made man who has volunteered
countless hours of his time in endeavors ranging from fundraising walks to
neighborly good deeds such as clearing snow-covered neighborhood driveways.
Manley Garber and others like him are the people who
strengthen the fabric of their communities, and these are the people we will
profile in ensuing “Good Neighbors” features.
There are good neighbors in every community. If you have
one you’d like to be considered for Cooperative Living’s Good Neighbors
feature, let us know in a letter or an email including your name, your
cooperative, your phone number and email address, and the name and contact
information for the neighbor or neighbors (it can be a couple or a family)
you’d like us to consider.
With this information, let us know in 100 words or less
why you are making this Good Neighbors nomination. Your reasons for
nominating good neighbors can be as simple as someone’s kindness in bringing
food to shut-ins, or as elaborate as someone’s work in organizing a major
Mail your nomination letter to Good
Neighbors, c/o Cooperative Living Magazine, P.O. Box 2340, Glen Allen, VA
23058, or email your nomination to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include “Good
Neighbors” in the subject line. We’ll consider all nominations and feature a
different person (or persons) with each new issue of Cooperative Living.
Thanks, and we look forward to receiving your Good