Gary J. Gonder, age 62, of Jefferson City, Mo., passed away peacefully on Friday, May 14, 2021, at his home after a brief illness. He was surrounded by family.
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Gary was born on August 20, 1958, in Carrollton, Mo., the son of William Glen and Norma Jo (Smith) Gonder. He was married on October 24, 1987, in Jefferson City, Mo., to Nanci Carroll.
A lifelong resident of the central Missouri area, Gary was a 1976 graduate of Jefferson City High School, where he broke many school basketball records. After graduation, Gary gave up a basketball scholarship to attend the University of Missouri Journalism School, where he graduated with bachelor’s degrees in advertising and photo journalism. Gary later earned his master’s degree in Public Administration in 1981, and remained a proud Tiger for the rest of his life, attending nearly every home-game tailgate with friends for the past 13 years.
After graduating from Mizzou, Gary was selected to run the daily newspaper for Royal Viking Line cruise ships, which took him around the world three times and allowed him to continue his passion for photography, travel, and meeting new people. After leaving the cruise line because he wanted “a house and a dog,” Gary worked for the Missouri Film Commission, which allowed him to attend a prison riot and film parts of Planes, Trains and Automobiles on an active flight tarmac. Gary then worked for the Missouri Lottery for nearly 30 years, before “retiring” in 2016, although he continued to work with the organization until April, 2021. While at the Lottery, Gary received the National Major Peter J. O’Connell Lifetime Achievement Award and was a founding member and Chairman of the Missouri Alliance to Curb Problem Gambling, an industry first. He took pride in his work to raise funds for public education.
Gary possessed a strong faith and was an active member of First Christian Church, where he served as a past Board Chairman and Elder, as well as Chairman of the committee to build the Family Life Center, and Chairman of the Pastoral Relations Committee. Gary taught Sunday School for 12 years and in 2018 chaperoned the youth group on a trip to rebuild homes after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. He was Commissioner of the Upward Basketball program, which he helped launch and manage, for 16 years.
Gary also served as Chairman of the Board at Rainbow Rock Condominiums in Brookings, Oregon, where he and Nanci have spent part of the last 8 years hiking (usually twice daily), beachcombing, and photographing sunsets and redwoods.
Even after his career in photo-journalism ended, Gary could rarely be spotted without a camera. He would take every chance he got to photograph friends and family, scenes in nature, and even strangers doing things he found interesting. Gary loved good music. His taste spanned genres and decades, and he was known to adjust the radio tuner to avoid a song he disliked even as he pulled into the driveway back at home. Gary also loved sports, and rarely missed a Cardinals, Chiefs, or Tigers game. He loved bringing people together, and was always up for a good adventure, party, or excuse to dress up. He loved travel, particularly experiencing new traditions, climbing new mountains, and photographing daily life across the world.
Of all of his roles and passions, the one Gary cherished the most was that of husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin and nephew. For the last 28 years, Gonder Family Christmases were held at his house and it was the highlight of his year. A close second for Gary were the Gonder Family Camping Trips, which took place each June. Gary was a listener, a protector, a problem solver, and a mentor for so many members of the family. Gary coached all of his daughter Georgia’s sports teams, helped her make her Valentine’s Day Card box each year in elementary school, and took her to countless concerts and sporting events.
Gary loved life, and never wasted a moment of his. Gary was passionate about the “why” behind everything he did, and aimed to help others find and understand theirs. Gary never said no. He believed in hard work, took pleasure in a job well done, and was a mentor to many. He believed that kindness, laughter, hope, and keeping a Mini Snickers Bar in your coat pocket could get you through anything. His contagious smile, joyous laugh, and heart of service will be sorely missed.
Survivors include: his loving wife of 33 years, Nanci; his daughter, Georgia Raffi (husband, Benjamin) of France; four siblings, Gil Gonder (wife, Andrea) of Kansas City, Mo., Gailen Rosenberg (husband, Russ) of Atlanta, Ga., Geoff Gonder (wife, Sondra) of Holts Summit, Mo., and Greg Gonder (wife, Kristin) of Strafford, Mo; step-mother, Sharon Gonder of Jefferson City, Mo; one grandson, Alexandre Calvin Michel “Lex” Raffi; and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Gary was preceded in death by his parents and one brother, George Gonder.
Visitation will be held at First Christian Church from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
Funeral services will be conducted at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, May 19, 2021, at First Christian Church with the Reverend Sarah Kingsbery officiating. Graveside services and interment will be held at Riverview Cemetery.
A webcast of Gary’s service will begin at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday for friends that are not able to attend by going First Christian’s Church’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fccjcmo.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are suggested to First Christian Church, 327 E. Capitol Avenue, Jefferson City, Mo., 65101.
Funeral arrangements are under the care of Freeman Mortuary.