A memorial celebration for Mr. Charles Gardner of Nacogdoches will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, at the Lamp-Lite Theatre in Nacogdoches.
Mr. Gardner was born on Nov. 17, 1931, in Phoenix, Ariz. to the late Leroy and Hazel Nickles Gardner. He passed away peacefully after a short illness on Aug. 13, in Tyler.
Charles was called “P.K.” by his family — and nicknamed “Cotton” because of his then-white hair — grew up during the Great Depression in Phoenix, Ariz. Returning with the family to their Choctaw Indian Allotment in Matoy, Okla. in 1943, he graduated from high school in 1950. He then attended the University of Oklahoma, receiving a BS in education in 1954 and MA in 1958. He received his commission along the way as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army as an officer in the Infantry and was — among other things — a Rifle Marksmanship Instructor at The Infantry School in Fort Benning at the tail end of the Korean Conflict, and later at Fort Bliss as Company Commander. He later remarked if he had not started a family, he thought he would have stayed in the Army. He received an Honorable Discharge in 1962 as a (permanent) 1st Lieutenant.
Charles was initially an Instructor and later Associate Professor of geography, teaching first at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn. where Robert (Bob) was born, returning near his Oklahoma home to Southeastern State University in Durant, where Anna Marie (Sissy) was born, Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and then 30 years at Stephen F. Austin State University, retiring in 1996. While he was known as a thoughtful yet outspoken professor, he was also known to work closely with conscientious students who wanted more out of school than grades and stayed in appreciative touch after finishing SFA. His other early passion was “the railroads”, and with his academic background in geography made a name for himself as a recognized cartographer and authority of the regional Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma railroad lines — all before coming to Nacogdoches. He was a “back bench member” of Christ Episcopal Church, and had private but very deeply held Christian beliefs.
All that knew Charles beyond the classroom knew him as a musician and lover of all things musical. He performed for 25 years in the East Texas String Ensemble with fellow SFA faculty members Ab Abernethy, Stan Alexander and Tom Nall. They made yearly appearances at the Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio representing the Nacogdoches and SFA community and also played at weddings, gatherings, burials, and traveled several times to Central America entertaining on behalf of the US State Department. He was likely as not to be spotted braving the searing heat or bitter cold at the Old Time String Shop on Saturday afternoons, chiding and praising many future musicians. He also attended and competed in fiddle contests throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and the far reaches of the US. Many years a member, he served the Texas Old Time Fiddlers Association in an official capacity for 10 years on the Board of Directors and as the President, authoring monthly newsletters, driving early Saturday mornings across Texas to organize and judge contests, and attempting to preserve order in a sea of strongly opinionated fellow musicians. He could play any stringed instrument — fiddle, mandolin, guitar, lap steel — and Ab once signed a book: “To Charles Gardner, who could play a cat if you could stretch it tight enough.” Eventually focusing on the upright bass, one of Charles’ oldest fiddler friends, E.J. Hopkins, would call out “Charles, I love those big round notes on that bass!” His most recent joy was to watch his 19 month-old granddaughter streak bare down the hall of his home, singing and dancing and keeping the beat — he smiled to see that his musical delight was hereditary.
Charles was a regular member of the Lamp-Lite Theatre’s musical staff, playing upright bass in virtually every production that Sarah McMullen and her staff put on in recent memory. He even worked in a few performances with SFA at Turner Auditorium over the years, most appropriate being in “Fiddler on the Roof” in the 70s. At the time, he was greatly distressed because of the “hen pecks and fly specs” on the sheet music that he could not read. He persevered. Looking back in the fullness of time — “now as we know fully,” one who knew him can see it was Charles who was the “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Charles is survived by his daughter, Anna Marie Gardner of Muskogee, Okla.; son, Robert Charles; wife, Danita; and granddaughter Natalie Grace Gardner, of Atherton, Calif.; sister-in-law, Ollie Gardner of Denison; brother, M.L. “Tooter” Gardner of St. Louis, Mo.; brother, Sam “Bid” and wife Cathy Gardner of Los Alamos, N.M.; sisters, Marie Wong of Rockwall and Nancy Kegley and husband, Larry, of Alexandria, Va.; nieces and nephews, Debra Gardner, John Gardner, Joan Verm, Butch Held, David Held, Katy Held, Mark Gardner, Sam G. Gardner, Joan Gardner, Daniel Gardner, Sam D. Gardner, Susan Gardner, Darryl Gardner, Charles Dean Hodge, Mary Candace Hodge, Jeff Hodge and Fred Johnson; and countless friends.
In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by brothers, Jesse Greenwood and John Calvin Gardner; sister, Joan Held; brothers-in-law, John Held and Ronnie Wong, and niece, Amy Johnson.
In lieu of flowers, please consider memorial donations in Charles’ memory to the SFA Department of Music and the Lamp-Lite Theatre in Nacogdoches.