Posts Tagged ‘J. Gary Dillon’

Remembering J. Gary

December 27, 2019

It’s been more than a year since J. Gary Dillon passed away at age 89. He was dubbed “Mr. Akron Railroad” because no one else belong to the club as long as he did and no one else probably ever will.

He was a fixture at club meetings every month and served as vice president until his final year in the group.

J. Gary, as he liked to call himself, was the ARRC’s oldest member who regularly continued to attend meetings. He always had a welcoming greeting and a treasure trove of stories from his past.

He is shown standing next to the target signal at Morgan Run east of Coshocton, Ohio, at the junction of the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline (left) between Pittsburgh and Columbus and the original Wheeling & Lake Erie line to Zanesville, Ohio.

The occasion was an ARRC excursion that had originated in Sugarcreek on the Ohio Central and traveled to Morgan Run on Oct. 22, 2005.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Dillon Visitation, Service Set

October 23, 2018

The funeral for J. Gary Dillon, a long-time member and vice president emeritus of the Akron Railroad Club will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the New Horizons Christian Church.

The Rev. Jim Bane is tentatively scheduled to officiate. ARRC President Craig Sanders also will delivery a eulogy.

Visitation will be at the church on Friday between 6 and 8 p.m., preceding the October meeting of the ARRC that will be held in the church starting at 8:15 p.m.

Arrangements are being handled by the Hecker-Patron Funeral Home of Uniontown.

Mr. Dillon died on Monday at the Stow-Glen Retirement Village.

Remembering J. Gary

October 22, 2018

I’m going over with J. Gary Dillon the agenda for my first ARRC meeting as president in January 2005. The program that night would tributes to David McKay, who I succeeded as president, and who had died the previous month.

I don’t remember the first time that I met J. Gary Dillon, but I remember well the first time that I saw him.

It was July 5, 2003, in Kent. I was there to ride an excursion train on the former Erie Railroad mainline from Kent to a point short of Ravenna Road in Brady Lake during the Kent Heritage Festival.

There was a man walking around in dark clothing with various medallions hanging around his neck and wearing a hat festooned with railroad patches and pins.

I didn’t know who he was, but he was an unforgettable sight. Three weeks later I attended my first meeting of the Akron Railroad Club and learned that the guy I’d seen in Kent was the vice president of the club.

What I remember about that meeting is how then-President David McKay called on Gary to give what was called the welfare report.

Gary proceeded to talk about who was in the hospital, who had died, and other tidbits that I considered to be gossip.

And he relished telling all of this in the manner of a town crier. What was that all about?

Little did I know that in just over a year and a half I would be the one turning to Gary and asking him for his “welfare report.”

There have been many colorful characters in the annals of the ARRC, but J. Gary as he liked to call himself was one of a kind.

In a tribute to Gary that I wrote for the 70th anniversary of the club, I labeled him Mr. Akron Railroad Club. The club was his “family,” something he reminded us of on numerous occasions.

He joined shortly after the organization renamed itself the Akron Railroad Club in early 1947 and has been a club fixture since then.

Gary was never a member of the Eastern Ohio chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, which was the forerunner of the ARRC, but he would have known or met many of those who were.

In short he was the last survivor of the pioneer days of the ARRC.

Gary was already an older man by the time I got know him after I was elected president of the ARRC in November 2004.

He never met a stranger and I was surprised at how easily he would ask the servers at Eat ‘n Park during the after meeting social gathering about themselves.

Gary had a stoic nature and that led to a crisis in his life not long after I became president.

The City of Akron condemned Gary’s house. A handful of ARRC members urged Gary to do something about it, including moving his considerable collection of railroad memorabilia to a safe place.

But Gary did nothing and one afternoon an Akron police officer showed up at Gary’s home and gave him 30 minutes to get out whatever he wanted before the structure was razed.

I never heard Gary express any anger about that and, in fact, he seldom talked about it except in passing.

It had to have hurt losing most of his possessions, but Gary seemed to take it in stride just as he did moving to a homeless shelter, then to a home operated by the Catholic Church, and then to a rental home on North Hill. In recent years Gary lived in the same assisted living facility in Stow that was once the home of the late Dr. Vaughn Smith, whose “welfare” Gary reported on repeatedly.

Gary did on occasion express sadness about the day when the streetcars operated in Akron for the final time on March 23, 1947.

He had a passion for traction and saw the last of those operations shut down in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Gary witnessed an incredible amount of railroad history in Akron during his lifetime. He enjoyed recalling past ARRC trips on rail lines and rail operations that no longer exist.

Some of the details that he remembered decades later, even during his final months, were amazing.

To my knowledge, Gary never had a driver’s license. He would ride the bus to downtown Akron to go to the library or to go to church. Otherwise, he got around with the generosity of others.

In recent years ARRC member Paul Woodring has driven Gary to and from ARRC meetings and other events of interest to Gary.

In my early years as ARRC president, I would often speak with Gary about club matters.

Gary sometimes would come to me when no one else was around to tell me things he didn’t want others to overhear.

That included giving up his duties as program chairman and saying he could no longer serve as the master of ceremonies at the annual December banquet. It also included expressing gratitude for the profile I did about him that appeared in a special edition of the Bulletin on occasion of the ARRC’s 70th anniversary and our making him a life member in 2010.

Alas, old age was catching up with Gary, but so was poor health.

Those who knew him best were often frustrated that Gary didn’t take better care of himself. Things came to a head in late 2014 when Paul and a niece intervened and saw to it that he received some badly-needed medical attention.

For years Gary had had possession of a key to the New Horizons Christian Church, where Gary was a member and where the ARRC meets.

But church officials let me know they wanted me to take possession of that key and to serve as the liaison between the church and the club.

It was a delicate situation and church officials and Gary’s caretakers handled that transition well.

Around this time Gary stopped giving his welfare report. He often sat in silence during the meetings.

But he still made it a point when he saw me to ask how my Dad was doing. Gary never met my father but knew that he lived in Arizona in an assisted living facility.

My Dad is doing fine and just turned 93 last month. Interestingly, Gary was born the same year as my mother, about a month earlier. My Mom, though, died in 1979.

A few years ago Paul told me that Gary had expressed the wish that I speak at his funeral when that time came.

In recent months I wasn’t sure that would happen due to my plans to move out of Northeast Ohio sometime next year.

So when Paul called to break the news that Gary had died, I recognized that I’ll be ending my tenure as ARRC president with a sense of symmetry.

One of my first tasks when I became ARRC president was to speak in January 2005 at a memorial event for Dave McKay, who died in late December 2004.

At the time, Dave held the distinction of having the longest tenure as ARRC president, 12 years.

Now one of my last tasks as ARRC president will be speaking at another memorial event, this time for the longest-serving vice president of the club.

In Memory of J. Gary Dillon (1929-2018)

October 22, 2018

J. Gary Dillon at the March 31, 2018, Akron Railroad Club pizza party and member’s night slide shows. The last ARRC meeting he attended before his death was this past August.

John Gary Dillon, a long-time officer in the Akron Railroad Club and the club’s most senior member, died early Monday morning in his sleep of natural causes. He was 89.

He liked to describe himself as “J. Gary,” but most ARRC members knew him simply as Gary.

Mr. Dillon was the last ARRC member whose tenure covered the 1940s to the present.

For much of the ARRC’s history, Mr. Dillon was Mr. Akron Railroad Club.

Most of the Northeast Ohio railroad enthusiasts’ community knew him or knew of him. It was not unusual for railfans from outside of Ohio to ask about him.

Born Sept. 23, 1929, Mr. Dillon, a lifelong Akron resident, joined the Akron Railroad Club on June 26, 1947, at 17.

It didn’t take him long to make his mark. He was elected treasurer on Nov. 18, 1948, but not before the officers huddled to decide whether the youngster could handle the job.

Mr. Dillon did not serve as an officer every year since he joined the club, but there have not been many years when he wasn’t.

He was ARRC president in 1958, 1959, 1967, 1968 and 1969. Mr. Dillon served as vice president between 1975 and January 2017. He held every office except Bulletin editor.

At the February 2017 meeting, ARRC members voted to name Mr. Dillon vice president emeritus. He was named a life member of the ARRC in July 2010.

Mr. Dillon was just the second member of the now defunct Midwest Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society to receive a 50-year membership pin.

He served several years as an NRHS national director, which is how he gained his national visibility.

For much of his life, Mr. Dillon was often seen wearing various medallions and railroads were not his only interest. Mr. Dillon was active in a Civil War group and his church, and was an indefatigable journal keeper. But the Akron Railroad Club was his life.

Interurban railways and trolleys were Mr. Dillon’s passion and there aren’t many, if any, interurban railways that lasted into the 1940s that he didn’t ride before they pulled down their wires for good.

His travels in pursuit of interurban mileage were well documented in the ARRC Bulletin. On one trip in Iowa, the car he was riding wrecked.

Chances are pretty good that Mr. Dillon rode every ARRC excursion and remembered many of them as though they had happened yesterday.

Ask him who the stewardess was on the May 1954 ARRC charter flight to Canada and he’d tell you it was Maxine Scott.

As vice president, Mr. Dillon oversaw the scheduling of the monthly programs, but his most important duty was not described in the club constitution.

Right after the treasurer’s report, the ARRC president would turn to Mr. Dillon and say “welfare report, Gary.”

Mr. Dillon would rise from his seat in the front row – he would sit in the same place at every meeting – and in a soft, but reassuring voice tell which members had been hospitalized, who had had a death in the family, and anything else he thought we might want to know about a member and his family.

Sometimes, he’d report a “fallen flag,” his term for a member who had died. He kept the club up to date on members who couldn’t attend meetings anymore and he often took on the task of mentoring young members.

Mr. Dillon also would serve as the master of ceremonies at the annual ARRC Christmas season banquet.

As Mr. Dillon grew older, though, he stopped giving the welfare report and handed over the program scheduling and banquet MC duties to the president.

At the January 2017 officer’s meeting Mr. Dillon indicated he did not want to serve as vice president. The office was taken over in July 2017 by Todd Dillon, who is no relation to Mr. Dillon.

In the past couple years Mr. Dillon had been living in an assisted living facility in Stow and had been in failing health.

He still attended ARRC meeting on occasion, his last one having been in August.

Mr. Dillon was a life-long bachelor and is survived by a niece, Lisa McLean, who had been overseeing his affairs for the past several years. He is also survived by a nephew (Timothy Conley); and two grand nephews and a grand niece.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Orval and Mable (Grable) Dillon; and a sister, Iris Conley.

Mr. Dillon graduated from East High School and worked for Grace Wolf in the optical industry. He later organized bus trips for Badstuber Travel.

He was a long-time member of New Horizons Christian Church, a charter member of the Northern Ohio Railway Museum, and a 60-year member of the Midwest Chapter of NRHS.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Northern Ohio Railway Museumor to New Horizons Christian Church.

Dillon Named as ARRC VP Emeritus

January 30, 2017

J. Gary Dillon was named vice president emeritus by the Akron Railroad Club at its Feb. 27 meeting.

ARRC logoDillon had indicated to the officers during a recent board meeting that he no longer wished to serve as the club’s vice president.

Since joining the ARRC on June 26, 1947, Dillon has held all officer positions except for Bulletin editor.

He was elected treasurer in November 1948 and has since served as president in 1958, 1959, 1967, 1968 and 1969. Dillon was elected vice president in 1975, a post he had held since then.

Dillon was named a lifetime ARRC member in July 2010. The Akron native is the last ARRC member left who joined the club in its early years.

The ARRC traces its history to the 1936 formation of a committee to sponsor railway excursions. That committee a year later became the Eastern Ohio Chapter of the National Railway Society.

The Eastern Ohio chapter surrendered its charter in December 1945.

Some members elected to form a new group known as the Northeastern Ohio Railfans, which organized on Feb. 9, 1946.

That group reorganized again a year later as the Akron Railroad Club, which came into existence on March 27, 1947.

The club is currently seeking a volunteer to agree to serve as its vice president.

J. Gary Dillon Named ARRC Life Member

July 26, 2010

Akron Railroad Club President Craig Sanders (left) presents a plaque to J. Gary Dillon naming him a life member of the ARRC. The honor was made during the ARRC's July meeting. (Photographs by Peter Bowler)

J. Gary Dillon, a member of the Akron Railroad Club since 1947, was named a life member of the club during the July 23, 2010, club meeting. The honor was announced during the program and caught Dillon by surprise.

ARRC President Craig Sanders was showing a series of photographs of Akron streetcars and ARRC outings involving traction. Suddenly, the program shifted to a proclamation citing Dillon for his many years of service to the club and ended with naming him as president.

Dillon has served as vice president since 1975 and has held every office in the club except Bulletin Editor. He has served as an ARRC officer in a nearly unbroken line since being elected club treasurer in 1948. Dillon served as ARRC president in 1958, 1959, 1967, 1968 and 1969.

He joined the club on June 26, 1947, at age 17. He credits the late Kenneth Richards as having been instrumental in encouraging him to join the ARRC and in providing him with information about railroad operations.

After being presented a plaque, Dillon took a knife and cut a cake that had been ordered and customized for the occasion. The 40 ARRC members present at the meeting then enjoyed cake and ice cream before the program resumed.

To read a profile of J. Gary Dillon republished from the November 2006 issue of the ARRC Bulletin, click on the link below.

J. Gary Dillon poses with the cake ordered to celebrate his being named a life member of the Akron Railroad Club.

NRHS Honors Dillon With 60-Year Membership Pin

March 3, 2009

Akron Railroad Club vice president J. Gary Dillon was recently presented with a silver 60-year membership pin by the National Railway Historical Society. Dillon joined the Midwest Chapter of NRHS in 1949. He was just the second chapter member to receive a 50-year membership pin.  Dillon also served for several years as an NRHS national director.

“Your fellow members of the Society salute you for your impressive record of long and faithful support, which has contributed to making our organization the outstanding one in the world of rail history preservation,” wrote NRHS director of membership awards Joseph C. Maloney, Jr. in a letter to Dillon congratulating him on joining the 60 year club within NRHS.

The Midwest Chapter plans to honor Dillon at its November banquet.

Dillion, who joined the ARRC on June 26, 1947, has been the organization’s vice president since 1975. He has held every office in the Akron Railroad Club except bulletin editor.

The Akron native has an interest in railroads of every type, but his particular passion is traction. In the 1940s and 1950s Dillon traveled extensively to ride the last interurban and trolley systems left in the country before many of them shut down.