He was conceived in Brazil not long after the turn of the 20th century. His mother, fearing it was much too dangerous to bear a child so far from her home back in the United States, decided to return to the US.  This was a time when medicine was hardly advanced.  Most Americans still used horses for transport and gas for light. So John Henry Gardemeyer Jr. was born in New York City on November 15, 1909, the first son of John Henry Gardemeyer and Genevieve G. Myers.

His grandfather, world traveler Peter D. Gardemeyer, was part of a California pioneer family that founded the towns of Sutter City and Livermore. His father was born in Sutter City and raised in San Francisco, returning to New York in his twenties to work in the import business.

John spent his early childhood in Brooklyn near his mother’s family.  Genevieve’s brother was clearly the most successful member of this Irish family.  He was the proud owner of no less than three waterfront taverns.  But when John was just 7, his father returned to South America to work as an agent for one of the large coffee houses, and from there he summoned his family.  Now it included his brother, Robert Emmett, younger by 2 years.

Imagine this warm summer day in June 1917 as they boarded the Red Line steamship bound for Caracas and Maracaibo - the excitement of the boys, the apprehension of the mother.  Although the Great War was on, the shipping corridors between the East coast and South America were supposed to be neutral.  Nevertheless, the boys were repeatedly cautioned by the captain not to wave their flashlights on deck.

Five years they spent in Venezuela, eventually settling in Puerto Cabello where John senior was American Consul.  It was here that the family dropped the “Garde” from “Meyer” since a Germanic name was not popular at the time.  But by this time John was “native,” having acquired lifelong memories of South American culture as well as total fluency in Spanish, a skill that throughout his life would stand him in good stead, particularly in his role as a community servant years later in Van Nuys.

In 1922 the family returned to the US and eventually settled in Plainfield, New Jersey. His aunt was married to John L. Sullivan, so John spent many childhood summers during the ‘20’s on the famous boxer’s estate in Saugerties, New York.

During the Depression, John worked at as many as three jobs at once, sometimes earning pennies when a nickel would buy lunch for two. Despite the tough times, in his travels he found time to meet a beautiful Irish girl from South Plainfield named Anne Kaine. They were married in 1939, and over the next seven years Anne gave birth to three sons. Jack, Gene, and Jeff. Life was good, but there was more adventure to come.

What possessed this family to relocate to the San Fernando Valley in California?  Rumor has it Anne saw a copy of Life Magazine containing a story about the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.  That did the trick.  In 1947 Anne and the three young boys, ages six, two, and one, boarded an American Airlines DC3 from New York to Los Angeles. 

John preceded them by car, driving a 1941 Plymouth 4 door sedan across the US on what must have been a true highway odyssey for 1947.  John convinced a family uncle, Will Bressan, to come along to California as co-driver for the 3000 mile journey. However, about 200 miles into the trip, Uncle Will realized he had forgotten his eyeglasses, so John Meyer had to drive the whole way across the States. Another time during that drive Uncle Will complained about getting a sunburn on his arm in the passenger seat. John reacted by slamming on the brakes.  The only way a passenger’s arm could be in the sun was if they were headed east, certainly not the way to California!  So Uncle Will wasn’t a very good navigator either.

The late 40’s and early 50’s were an exciting time in Southern California.  The San Fernando Valley was still largely orange groves and alfalfa fields, with dirt roads connecting them. But the aerospace industry was developing at a lightning pace, and John Meyer became a part of it, eventually helping to send a man to the moon.  He worked for North American Aviation in the engineering field.  Over the years he worked for all the industry leaders: McDonnell Douglas, Hughes, Litton Industries, American Machine and Foundry, and Lockheed Missiles and Space Division, finally retiring in 1980.

During their teens, all the Meyer boys delivered The Los Angeles Daily News, then known as the Van Nuys News and Green Sheet. While they bicycled through their paper routes Tuesdays, Thursdays, (By far the heaviest), and Sundays, many a rainy morning would find their father John driving them around while they delivered the Green Sheet from the trunk of a 1956 Ford.

Here are some of the Van Nuys community based activities that John Meyer was part of:

John brought baseball to the kids of the central San Fernando Valley.  With no little league teams or even fields on which to play, he founded the St. Elisabeth Men’s Club in 1952, which in turn ushered in the St. Elisabeth and Valley Catholic Baseball Leagues, building fields and providing little league, pony league, and Babe Ruth league baseball to over 1000 Valley youngsters.

John was a 50 year charter member of the Knights of Columbus, Council 3148, and was elected Grand Knight at age 90.

For 40 years he was a member of the St. Elisabeth Choir, serving as assistant choirmaster for most of those years.  He possessed a wonderful deep baritone voice and was constantly in demand for his singing, dancing, and entertaining artistry.

He was a member of the Notre Dame Patrons Club, the Sepulveda Men’s Golf Club, the Forever Young Club and the St. Elisabeth Serve Center serving meals to the homeless, where his Spanish skills were indispensable.

Anne Meyer died in 1987.  John was devoted to her during her illness.  Now the boys had families of their own and John soon found a companion and new wife in Connie Delgiudice, another long time resident of Van Nuys who had lost her husband, Art, a few years earlier.  They were inseparable pals until Connie, too, passed away after ten year of marriage.

John Meyer was proud that he impressed upon his sons the idea that as difficult as a job becomes, and as intolerable as a boss can be, the best result comes in making even the most difficult tasks fun. He taught his sons to appreciate and enjoy work even though it may be tedious. Perhaps that positive outlook came from living through 2 world wars and the Depression.  A work-hard, play-hard mentality, and he firmly believed in it. There was a genuine sense of optimism and hope that came out of living through the World Wars and the Depression.

John Meyer was a good dad, the best accolade any man can hope to achieve.  Certainly, it’s the most lasting contribution any of us can hope to make.  He gave us three sons, Jack, Gene and Jeff, who, thankfully possess an indelible imprint of John Meyer upon them

Remarkably, no one can ever remember hearing him say an unkind thing about anyone.  As Jeff described him a few years ago:  “…I have never heard him curse unless you count “GAD DOG’ as swearing.  He is my Dad, my Idol and my Friend and I hope we are reading this on his 100th birthday, too.”

Well, we can indeed read this on his 100th birthday.  And John will still be with us.  Perhaps he’s sitting now on some celestial veranda with his Mom and Dad and his brother Bob, watching the tall ships swing at anchor in the harbor at Puerto Cabello a hundred years ago.  But he’ll always be with us here in the San Fernando Valley, too.

John used to say “Safe home,” whenever anyone departed from his house in Van Nuys.  We all feel safer having known him. Safe home to you, John.