It was a crisp and cool Saturday morning. Sun rays were peeking through large fir trees and bringing out the bright, beautiful colors of the autumn leaves along Evergreen Road. It seemed like the perfect day to celebrate Francis Gerding’s 100th birthday!
Francis Gerding turned 100 years old on Friday, Oct. 29, and was sitting outside his residence with his wife, Carroll, waiting for a birthday parade to drive by in celebration of his century milestone on Saturday morning. Most family and friends call Francis “Fran” for short.
When asked how it felt to be 100 years old, Fran responded, “it feels great!” As to what means the most to him in life, it’s “family, a great big caring family.”
Fran and Carroll have six children, three boys — Bob, Ben and Jerry, and three girls — Jeanne, Sandy and Sharon. Fran and Carroll also have 17 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren, with a 35th due to be born in February. It’s understandable why Fran values family over everything else after 100 years. The Gerding family tree has a lot of branches to be proud of.
There was a line of 39 vehicles, led by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, Philomath Fire & Rescue, four-wheelers decorated with inflatable Beaver lawn ornaments, pickup trucks with balloons, a giant float filled with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and even an old red and white tractor named “Francis” that he taught each of his kids to drive.
Lots of people had handmade signs sticking out of sunroofs and hanging along the outside of their cars waving and wishing Fran a happy birthday. All six of his children were in attendance at the parade and were smiling from ear to ear as friends and relatives drove past offering well wishes or blowing kisses.
Fran is the son of Henry and Mathilde Gerding and was born in Corvallis on Oct. 29, 1921. He was the second of three brothers, Leo and Henry Jr. “Hank.” His parents opened Gerding’s Groceries in 1922, nearly 100 years ago on Second Street. The store served both groceries and feed.
When asked how long he worked at Gerding’s Groceries, he joked, “I was born there!” Fran delivered feed throughout the Willamette Valley and along the Oregon Coast for years. The store remained open for 57 years from 1922 to 1979.
Fran attended Corvallis High School in 1939 and 1940 and purchased a farm south of Philomath where he continues to live with his wife to this day. This is where the big birthday drive-by parade took place on Saturday morning.
As with many young people in the “Greatest Generation,” Fran along with both his brothers, answered their country’s call to serve in the Armed Forces during World War II. Fran served in the Army while his brothers both served in the Navy.
Fran quickly moved up the ranks and became a sergeant assigned to General George Patton’s famed Third Army. Most notably, Fran served in the Battle of the Bulge which was pivotal in changing the outcome of the war to help the Allies secure victory in Europe.
When Fran was honorably discharged in 1946, he returned home to the grocery store and began raising livestock on his farm along with his brother. Together, they raised cattle, hogs, chickens, hens and 12 children. His brother, Hank, raised six children while brother Leo raised five.
Francis married Carroll Lampert in 1949. They look forward to their 73rd wedding anniversary this coming May.
By learning to grow and raise livestock, Fran felt a responsibility to pass on these farming skills along to future generations. In 1950, he became an adult leader for the Benton County 4-H program and started a club called the Blue Ribbonaires. All of his children, nieces and nephews recall meeting in a little cabin on the farm learning how to care for and feed livestock.
Through Fran’s dedicated leadership the Blue Ribbonaires won numerous awards and blue ribbons at both the county fair and throughout the state. Fran served in this role as a 4-H volunteer leader for 30 years until 1980.
Fran joined the Knights of Columbus in Corvallis when he turned 18 in 1940. He has continuously been a member for 81 years and remains a devout member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church since being baptized there a century ago.
On Saturday, when asked if he had any advice for others, Fran reflected on the importance of “the power of prayer, the power of love and the importance of charity in people’s homes.” He advised those younger than him to “keep moving!”
Asked if he had anything else to add, he finished with a big smile saying, “Go Beavs!”
(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at Lifeinphilomath@gmail.com).