George W. Gibbs Jr. was a legend in Rochester, Minnesota, for his community involvement, civil rights activism, and business leadership.
Gibbs was born on November 7, 1916, and was raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He served in the Civilian Conservation Corps and graduated from Brooklyn Technical School in Brooklyn, New York.
He married Joyce Powell in Portsmouth, Virginia, on September 26, 1953.
Gibbs served in the U.S. Navy for 24 years. During his distinguished military career, he served on Admiral Richard Byrd's third expedition to the South Pole from 1939-1941. There, he became the first person of his race to set foot on the ice shelf of Antarctica. He also served as a gunner in the South Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Navy in 1959 with the rank of chief petty officer.
Upon leaving the military, Gibbs moved to Minneapolis where he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science degree in education.
He moved to Rochester in 1963 to work with IBM in the personnel department. While at IBM, Gibbs received various promotions including housing administrator and international assignment representative. He retired from IBM in 1982.
After retiring from IBM, Gibbs started Technical Career Placement, Inc. He continued to operate the employment service until his retirement in 1999.
Gibbs was honored many times over the years for his active contributions to the Rochester community. Gibbs was a former president of the Rochester Kiwanis and the Rochester chapter of the Minnesota Alumni Association. He was a former chairman of Boy Scout Troop 21 and the United Negro College Fund for southeast Minnesota. He was also a member of Christ United Methodist Church.
Gibbs was a recognized leader in the civil rights movement. He helped organize and was active in the Rochester branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was also involved with the Minnesota-North Dakota NAACP Conference. Gibbs garnered national attention in 1974 when he was refused membership in the Rochester Elks Club, presumably because of his race. He was the first person of his race to apply to the club and worked to break the color barrier at service clubs in Rochester. The Rochester branch of the NAACP presented him with the George Gibbs Humanitarianism Award, one of the many honors he received in his life.
Gibbs died of cancer at Charter House Health Care Center on Tuesday, November 7, 2000, his 84th birthday. He died during the election returns surrounded by friends and family.
He is survived by his wife; a daughter, Leilani R. Henry of Denver, Colorado; a son, E. Anthony "Tony" (Benita Rose) of Mansfield, Connecticut; and a granddaughter. He was preceded in death by a brother.
Memorial services are scheduled for Saturday, November 11, 2000, 10:30 a.m., at Christ United Methodist Church, 400 5th Avenue SW, Rochester, officiated by the Rev. Elizabeth A. Lopez. A private family disposition of cremated remains will take place. Arrangements entrusted to Vine Funeral Home, Rochester.
Memorials are suggested to Christ United Methodist Church, 400 5th Avenue SW, Rochester, MN 55902; Mayo Hospice, 200 1st Street SW, Rochester, MN 55905; the American Cancer Society, 882 7th Street NW, Rochester, MN 55901; or the NAACP, c/o Vine Funeral Home, 428 Third Avenue SW, Rochester, MN 55902.