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Butler musician with ‘Silver Sax’ still performs, inspires at age 94
Newhaven Court at Clearview resident keeps senior community rocking
Gumpper learned to play. In fact, 85 years later, he’s still entertaining his fellow residents at Newhaven Court at Clearview, a senior living community in Butler.
A lifelong resident of Butler County, Gumpper, 94, is well-known throughout the region after decades of performances playing both tenor and soprano saxophone for dance bands. He’s also a retired architectural designer whose work influenced the Butler skyline because of the numerous buildings, monuments, houses and schools he designed.
“John is talented and popular among the residents,” said Kathy Roudybush, Activities Director at Newhaven Court at Clearview. “He takes requests and knows just about any song the residents ask him to play. Everyone sings along and has a great time. He’s quite an entertainer.”
Trained as an artist and musician, Gumpper often volunteered his artistic and musical talents to projects and charities throughout Butler County and Western Pennsylvania.
Gumpper was a member of the Bill Sellers Orchestra in the 1950s and later with the Ed Brinker Orchestra in the 1960s. He formed his own orchestra and jazz band in the 1970s. More recently, Gumpper worked with local pianist Tom Wotus. Now, his audience often includes his fellow residents at Newhaven Court at Clearview, where he regularly performs solo.
“I like the fact that everyone sings along with him,” one of the senior residents said. “He always gets a big crowd.”
“I always enjoy it,” added another Clearview resident. “John always plays all the old songs we all know and I know he enjoys playing for us.”
Gumpper’s resume includes more than his musical talents. He began his career at the Bantam Car Company in the advertising department, where he first used his gift of drawing. He eventually transferred to the graphic design department at The Butler Eagle.
He assisted the early war effort with drawings and plans for the advanced military railroad undercarriage design at the Duryea Corporation during World War II. In 1943, Gumpper enlisted with the U.S. Army Air Corps. During those war years, he played saxophone in the Army Air Corps Band in addition to earning his silver wings as a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot.
After the service, Gumpper joined the architectural firm of Walter L. Wimer and Associates as an architectural designer. He was involved with the designs of so many important buildings and structures in the region that a 1998 article in The Butler Eagle stated that Gumpper “gave Butler its look.”
Gumpper has been involved in many community organizations and events throughout his life. He’s been an active member of the First United Methodist church where he used his musical talent to play for church services and his artistic talent to design church bulletins. As a 62-year charter member of the local YMCA, Gumpper performed for many of the Good Friday breakfast services.
He also served on the board for the Butler County Symphony for over 20 years, and he used his artistic talent to help design hundreds of program covers.
One of his favorite activities in retirement was to play for the residents at every nursing home and assisted living residence in Butler. Now in his 90s, Gumpper makes sure the show goes on as he plays his “Silver Sax” at Newhaven Court at Clearview.
“The residents at Newhaven are a large ‘family,’ and they look forward to John and his ‘Silver Sax’ entertaining them twice a month with a multitude of songs, both old favorites and new,” Roudybush said. “John has the uncanny ability to take requests and flawlessly play those songs immediately by ear and memory from beginning to end. He remains very humble, yet his musical memory is a mystery.”
Gumpper’s children include John Jr. and wife Sharon; Bob; and Nancy. His son Pastor Bill Gumpper is deceased. Gumpper also has five grandchildren and five great grandchildren who love to hear him play.
“John is an inspiration for anyone with a talent or hobby,” Roudybush said. “He encourages our youth to develop musical abilities at an early age, to try various instruments, and to practice and perfect their artistic and musical skills. While other skills of a more physical nature are also beneficial, those abilities soon become fleeting as one gets older. But music and art can be shared and enjoyed for a lifetime. John has always committed his service to Butler and his gifts to God, and he wants to inspire others to do the same. His message: Use your talents.”
Kathy Roudybush, Activities Director