MADISON--John E. Gruber, a founder and first president (1997 to 2013) of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, Madison, died Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, of esophageal cancer. He edited the center's journal, Railroad Heritage, through 2012 and continued as president through 2013.
He was author of many articles and books, most recently, a book, Beebe and Clegg: Their Enduring Photographic Legacy, with John Ryan and Mel Patrick, published by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art (2018). An exhibit complementing the book opened September 21 at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
He was a free-lance railroad photographer since 1960. His personal documentation of preservation and commitment to its realization extended from the 1960s to his death. He is known for his portraits of railroad workers in their workplaces.
Gruber, son of Edward David and Leah Elizabeth, was born May 18, 1936, in Chicago. A sister, Mary Lee (now Olson), followed in 1939. A family vacation on the San Juan Express resulted in John's lifelong love of narrow gauge railroading. He graduated from Prairie du Sac High School in 1954 and from the University of Wisconsin Journalism School in 1959, followed by graduate work in landscape architecture. He was editor of the Daily Cardinal in 1957.
He worked in the UW Publications, as editor and manager, from 1960 to 1995. He edited Vintage Rails magazine from 1995 to 1999, followed by his work at CRP&A.
Gruber was a volunteer editor for Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society in past years and the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society more recently.
He married Bonnie Jean Barstow in 1962. They have two children, Richard (husband of the former Bonnie Jean Evert), Prairie du Sac, and Timothy, Madison; two grandchildren, Martin and Tamara; three step-grandchildren, Amy, Andrew, and Adam Yanke; four step-great-grandchildren; and five nephews.
A funeral service will be at LUTHER MEMORIAL CHURCH, 1021 University Ave., at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 27, 2018, with visitation at noon and a reception after the service.
Cress Funeral and Cremation Service
3610 Speedway Rd, Madison
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I first met John in i966 when my family and and I moved to Madison where I would join the photo staff of the Wisconsin State Journal. I was to fill a position previously held by Dick Sroda who was a good friend of John. I quickly became aware of John's love of photography and of his own skill as a photographer, especially if the photo subject had anything to do with trains and railroading. He was a genuinely nice guy. I offer my sincere sympathies to Bonnie and the family.
John was a client of my former employer for many years. An easy man to work with, and a genuinely nice man. So sorry to hear of his passing. My condolences to his Family. James Petrie, Jr., Formerly of Community Publications, Inc.
I met John Gruber in 1964 soon after coming to the University of Wisconsin to teach graphic design in the Department of Art. We worked together on a number of projects while John served as editor and manager of UW Publications. I owe him a debt of gratitude for providing an opportunity to demonstrate the value of design to improve the university’s public image through its publications, including a new identity program with a logo, signature type style and standardized format for the course catalogs, newsletters and other publications.
Our friendship extended beyond working together on publications. I have fond memories of John during late 1960s road trips to attend the Aspen International Design Conference. He frequently stopped at rail crossings in the middle of Nebraska and eastern Colorado to photograph trains. And I almost learned to enjoy cold winters during ski trips with the Gruber family and UW colleagues in northern Wisconsin.
After John retired from the UW, we continued to work together on projects connected to his railroad interests. These included the railroad journal The Quarterly Newsletter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, which he edited, along with stationery, web sites and several major railroad publications. I was pleased to collaborate with John on the design of Ted Rose Paintings and Photographs, Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Home front Photography, and most recently Beebe & Clegg: Their Enduring Photographic Legacy.
But most of all I am inspired by John’s ongoing passionate pursuit of railroad photography, research and writing during his retirement years. His most enduring legacy was his founding in 1997 and longtime tenure as president of The Center for Railroad Photography and Art, and his ambitious publishing accomplishments during this time.
It has been a great pleasure to have known and worked with John for the past 53 years. I will miss him.
John was an amazing influence for so many through his own work and his support and guidance. He has a very special place in my heart and will be greatly missed.
Bonnie and Family...
It has been many years and how time has flown. Seems like only yesterday when John and I worked for the State of Wisconsin. Good Man. Good Friend. He will be missed by many. God Bless and Keep You All.
John Was one of our scoutmasters in Troop 2 in Madison. Many fond memories. Always appreciated his gentile guidance. Aloha, Don Millard, Hilo Hawaii.
I first met John at a rail history seminar in Altoona, PA in the mid 1990's. My memory highlights John's passion. He cared about this industry and its way of life. John loved the stories of the folks that made railroading a way of life. John's efforts towards doing it correctly and his willingness to inspire those of us fortunate enough to be near him will be missed. I have faith that others will follow John's lead through the inspiration that he freely offered. Gary Landrio
Though John was an immensely talented photographer, writer, and editor, perhaps the biggest legacy he leaves is in tirelessly promotion Railroad-themed photography and art as a genre worthy of research, preservation, and legitimacy. His branchild, CPRA, will endure as a tribute to his life. I'll miss seeing John at the annual "conversations" weekends in Lake Forest. For many years, John included and promoted my work in his projects, and his example really served as a template for all of us going forward in championing young talent. I'll miss you, John.
He leaves a wonderful legacy for us to enjoy. Thank you.
John was always a pleasure and a joy to interact with. On his travels down Interstate 55, he would often call and we'd grab a quick lunch; we always enjoyed long conversation at railroad gatherings. John was a master photographer -- a master photographer has to have an "eye" to see the world and the people in it, and bring those lives and image to completion with compassion and caring. John's gentle and caring spirit always shined through and I always appreciated our friendship. Many caring thoughts to his family
I was always indebted to John for his one photo contribution to the GB&W book I wrote back in the early 2000's. I knew he had followed the last GB&W train the night of Aug. 27th, 1993 and had taken a photo the last crew going off duty in Wisconsin Rapids in the early hours of Aug. 28th. I reached out to him to see if he'd let me use it, and he was gracious enough to send me the slide. The book wouldn't have been "complete" in my mind with a photo capturing those last moments of a railroad he and I were both devoted to. RIP John.
Andrew S. Nelson
John was a wonderfully talented man, and a genuine and true friend to those lucky enough to know him personally. I knew John through his friendship with my father Peter Bunde, another RR passionate, who had the highest respect and admiration for John's work but also for his true friendship, which he treasured. My deepest condolences to the family and his friends - a great loss, which i know will be hard to bear. It is wonderful to have his articles and photos to remind us of a great and humble man. Anne Bunde-Birouste, Sydney, Australia
What a passionate and knowledgable man! It's been a long time, but I thoroughly enjoyed working with him on Vintage Rails. May you rest in peace and continue your travels on the other side, John!
I was one of the many partners John cultivated as he pursued his projects, in my case the founding of the Center for Railroad Photogrpaphy and Art. His design sense and scholarship had impressed me and I was sure the Center would be a success, unlike othe friends of his. His final big publication on Beene and Clegg had also brought me a spear carrier role on the stage of his ideas, and I’m delighted the book was published and then reprinted by the Center. His vision, taste, and unassuming leadership will be missed! And remembered.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the chance to meet John. It was only a couple times, but I hold the opportunities I had to meet him and help with his railroad research as the highest privileges of my career
What a loss for his family and the extended family of friends and fellow journalists. He was and is a wonderful man and mentor. Steve Smedley
Deepest condolences to you folks. John was a phenomenal human being. He'll be missed
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