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With Charles Gibbs at the helm, the Salem High School Alumni Association flourished

For many years, the Salem High School Alumni Association members had gathered over cups of coffee in the kitchens of members’ homes or after hours in the offices where they worked to pore over finances and make decisions about student scholarships.

That was the way they had always operated since the first scholarship fund was established in 1903. In four years, they had enough money to buy a $1,000 bond. Then in 1908, the $60 interest was given to a Salem High graduate, Walter French. The rule was never to touch the principal, and as the years passed, the interest grew, and more and more scholarships were handed out to graduating seniors.

Both Charles Gibbs and Daniel E. Smith started their careers in Salem and were actively involved with the association activities. Dan, a 1946 graduate, opened a jewelry store downtown. Charles, who graduated in 1943, started as a branch manager at the First National Bank across the street from Dan’s store and advanced to assistant cashier and cashier. He was promoted to senior vice president in 1972 and executive vice president and then president after First National was taken over by Society Bank in 1984.

Investments and finances were second nature to Charles, and in 1977 he accepted the position of treasurer of the scholarship committee and the association, and chairman of the investment committee. He could not have envisioned it then, but he would retain the posts for 25 years until his retirement.

Record keeping became more demanding and packing and unpacking the association books from one meeting place to another was a chore. A permanent home was the answer, a base for the association, and a site where alumni could get together when they wanted to organize reunions and meetings. For alumni who lived out of town and out of state, an association office would be a perfect place for them to stop over and visit when they were in the city.

Dan Smith came up with the answer. Above his jewelry store were 1,200 square feet of vacant space which both he and Charles thought would be perfect for the association’s first home. Dan offered the quarters to the association on a 15-year rent-free basis, and the two men cleaned out the years of cobwebs and dust and moved the association in.

The main office was at the front of the quarters, and a meeting and exhibit room and kitchenette were at the rear. The office opened in the early summer of 1984, and by summer’s end was decorated with draperies, desks, and chairs. A limited mail solicitation to 18 Salem High alumni classes had brought an immediate response.

Charles’ service to the association and his business acumen was recognized in 1986 when he was selected Outstanding Alumnus of the Year. The association had been honoring a distinguished graduate since 1958 when Fred E. Cope of the Class of 1925 was given the award. Russell and Sara Pearce Gibbs raised two daughters and two sons, Nanee Bennett and Elizabeth Thatcher, and Charles and his brother, James.

After his high school graduation, he served in the Navy. World War II was still going on, and Charles served in the Pacific Theater before being discharged. Returning home, he enrolled in classes at Adelbert College, now Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and graduated in 1948 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology.

Later, he enrolled at the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin. He married Margaret Works in 1950 in the First Presbyterian Church, and the couple had a son, Charles Pearce, and three daughters, Ellen Caruso, Emily Gibbs, and Margaret Hoople.

The church was a vital part of Gibbs’ life in Salem, and Charles served as a deacon and trustee, and as a member of the investment committee. He branched out into the community as a city councilman for 12 years and as chairman of the city’s finance committee.

For 17 years he was a member and chairman of the City Utilities Commission, retiring as chairman in 1991. He also served as treasurer of the Salem Rotary Club, a trustee for the Century House for aged men and women, a member of the Salem Golf Club, the selection committee for the Salem Hall of Fame, and a member of the Grandview Cemetery Board. President of RCG, a real estate development corporation, Charles was president of the American Laundry and Dry-Cleaning Inc. and a board member of Peoples Lumber Co. From 1987 to 1992, he was a senior vice president of the Firestone Bank of Lisbon.

When Charles retired from the alumni association in 2002, he left a portfolio of wise investments and a marvelous legacy. The $1,000 bond purchased by alumni in 1904, that principal of the first transaction, had grown to over $5 million.

On May 22, 2021, the Salem High School Alumni Association awarded 96 scholarships totaling $375,250 to 47 Salem High School graduating students and 41 postsecondary students. Since 1908, more than $8.3 million in scholarships has been given to 2,456 recipients. The Board of Trustees of the Salem High School Alumni Association gratefully acknowledges Charles Gibbs and offers their thanks to him posthumously for an outstanding job.

— Provided courtesy of the Salem High School Alumni Association.

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