To a select few in the gaming community, she’s “Rob’s mom”, but to those of us who have ever enjoyed a kebob on Third Avenue during Seafest, or watched the fireworks on the beach at Winterfest, Barb Gruber is much more than the Good Times Games owner’s forebearer.
“That’s how I’m known now,” she laughed. “Rob’s mom.”
Barb Gruber has, save for a couple years in Usk, B.C., lived her whole life in Prince Rupert, and she’s as much responsible for the spirit and the atmosphere of the place, as any politician or councillor can take credit for.
The peerless community volunteer has lent a hand in moulding so many of the city’s festivals, special events and even most recently, the public education system, that it’s hard to evade her influence on this northern, coastal town.
“I worked in little bits after my kids were born so I had the time to give, and I’m not the type of person who’s going to sit at home and watch soap operas,” said the Special Events Society president on the weekend.
Born from parents with more siblings than there are seasons in the year, Gruber has never suffered a dull moment in Rupert.
“We had family galore here … I had all these aunties that wanted nothing more than for me to come spend the night with them, because for 13 years, I was the only female grandchild,” she said.
“I probably had the nicest upbringing a child could ever want.”
Gruber zoomed through the schooling system straight into the working world after graduating Grade 12. She took a job at the Fisherman’s Co-operative Association for nine years, eventually becoming the American sales division accountant.
“Numbers; I love them. They have to make sense so you work them until they make sense,” said Gruber.
Borne from these analytical interests came Gruber’s next opportunity for employment after she had her first of her two sons, Robert and Michael, but it also carried a desire to teach those same skills to kids that needed one-on-one time for some extra help learning fractions or long division. Gruber was part of the office staff gathering information for the Canadian census, and then she got her feet wet helping others.
“I was really interested in the education field in Rupert when my kids were in Westview school. I used to go into the classes, at that time you didn’t need a degree, and they would give me two or three children and I would sit in the back with them and I would help them with their reading and their math and I just did it all as a volunteer. They told me I was crazy in my later years but it started out that I was going one day a week; I ended up going all five days for a couple of hours,” said Gruber.
There’s probably still some people making that claim against Gruber, but she’s never bitten off more than she could chew. She’s now a school board member along with her Special Events Society duties as president.
“I was [president] and then I found somebody to take it over for a few years and now I’m back again and I love it. I’ve been helping with Seafest, I’ve figured it out, it’s between 30 and 35 years,” she said.
“Before there was a Special Events Society I volunteered with the city to work with them putting it on and I really, really believe a community needs festivals to hold it together.”
Gruber’s duties are many for each event she undertakes. Among the impressive initiatives she’s either founded or helped come to fruition is the Northern Winter Games in 1999, the drive to bring Crime Stoppers to Prince Rupert, helping formulate the cruise ships volunteer schedules, the Rotary, she’s a treasurer for a cancer support group and of course she spearheads the four main events that fall under the Special Events Society’s jurisdiction; the March 1 Children’s Festival, Seafest, Canada Day and Winterfest.
This past Seafest, Gruber co-organized a senior’s tea at the Highliner Hotel for 225 people, which is “a lot of little old ladies and men”, she reflected.
She takes part in planning Prince Rupert Homecoming. Every five years, since 2000, her committee will plan a week-long festival of events including a golf scramble, a bar-hop, a dinner and dance and wine and cheese. They had to cap the registrants at 2,000 and turn people away in 2010.
Gruber comes by it honestly, too.
“I come from a family of [volunteering]. My father (Vince Dodd) was president of the Rotary Club, he was president of the Chamber of Commerce, he belonged to the Kinsmen club, he belonged to everything … We just have all been community-minded,” she said.
Her relationship with Bob, her husband, has made things extremely easy. Each partner has their own interests and Gruber appreciates being able to go away for an unexpected three-hour 7:00 p.m. meeting with no pitfalls to deal with at home.
“He doesn’t get upset I’m never home at night. Some meetings you don’t get home until 10:00 p.m. and I couldn’t do it without that support.”
Between his greenhouse gardens, the pastoral council, singing with the church choir and damning retirement by putting in hours at Saanich Plumbing, Bob has his own passions too.
The president will get some down time after July 1, but for now, it’s go-go-go.
“I believe in Rupert,” said Gruber.
“I think that the more there is to keep people involved, the happier people are.”