Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Robert Gerber lights up the Mendhams

When Robert Gerber found out that he would be inducted into the Mendham Hall of Fame, which recognizes residents who have contributed years of service to Mendham, he at first didn't know what to think.

"My neighbor, Mrs. Ford, told me (about it) about a month ago, and she said: 'Mr. Gerber, you're going to be in the Hall of Fame,' and I said, why?"

His neighbor, Laura Ford, who was among many people who nominated him, can answer that question: "I think that part of what Mr. Gerber does is so traditional. "And every night, I look out the window, and it's a complete, absolute treat. And you feel like you're in another country."

The treat that Gerber provides for all of Mendham comes annually, and it's the lighting of the 61 trees on his property for the Christmastime holidays. He's lighted trees every year since 1968, when he moved to Mendham. He grows a new tree every year, and next year will light up 62 of them.

"When we came here, we put in the driveway, and I put in the pond," says Gerber, squinting and mapping out the layout of his property in his mind. "I wanted to have a ski lift over here, so I put in all kinds of underground wiring because I knew that someday, I was going to put up Christmas trees every year, and I've done it for 61 years."

The ceremony inducting him into the Mendham Hall of Fame, which is organized by Mendham TV, was conducted earlier this month.

Gerber lived in Switzerland before he came to this country in 1948. His holiday display delights the community.

Some people have even popped the "big question" on his lawn, he said, recalling the "nice young couple that came up to me and said, 'Did you know we were engaged at the bottom of your Christmas trees?' And I said: 'Gee, isn't that a nice compliment?' That makes me feel good."

Ford recounts another story, this one about a neighbor in the military.

"Our other neighbor's son was in Fallujah," Ford says. "And we were kind of keeping in touch with him, and he said, 'Laura, the only thing I want is a picture. Can you send me a picture of Mr. Gerber's trees, because that would really make me feel great. It's all I really want.' "

If you make the trip past Gerber's house on Mendham Road during the holidays, don't expect to see lights of different varieties. Gerber stays traditional to his Swiss roots.

"The Christmas lights that I like are the white ones, not blinking, not twinkling, not going on and off, just nice, soft, soft, soft," Gerber says.

"In Switzerland, lights are white," explains Gerber, "And I like that. Because, in Switzerland, most Christmas trees still have live candles on them."

Gerber, who is now 84, can't put the lights up all by himself anymore, so he's enlisted the help of his grandson, Robbie, who is a volunteer fireman in town.

"Well, it looks like my grandson, Robbie, knows that I no longer can walk as fast as I used to," Gerber says, "so he's taking over."

Still, Gerber will keep putting up lights for as long as he can, and he gets great joy out of doing it for Mendham.

"It's been a hobby," he says, "And it's been a really gratifying thing to do."

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