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MANASSAS, Va. -- John Manley Garber, who has served on the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative board for 67 years, as well as other business and community boards, received the Charles J. Colgan Visionary Award from the Prince William Chamber of Commerce at its annual awards ceremony on Feb. 28 at the Hylton Performing Arts Center.
The chamber named the award for Virginia’s longest-serving state senator, Charles J. Colgan, who represented many Prince William County citizens for 40 years before passing away in January 2017.
‘The man who brought electricity to Prince William County’
When former Delegate Scott Lingamfelter introduced Garber, he often said, “Here’s the man who brought electricity to Prince William County.” That is because Garber pushed to bring electricity to much of county in the 1940s when the investor-owned electric utility refused to provide service to any home or business not along a main road. Because of Garber’s efforts to develop Prince William Electric Cooperative, members elected him to the utility’s board of directors in 1950. He served as secretary before board members elected him chairman in 1974.
Prince William Electric Cooperative consolidated with Tri-County Electric Cooperative in 1983 and formed Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, NOVEC. Garber continued serving as board chairman until 2008. The longest-serving electric-cooperative board member in the U.S. has since served as NOVEC’s vice chairman and director.
During his acceptance speech, the 93-year-old told attendees about growing up without electricity. He explained how county farmers formed the co-op and erected their own utility poles and power lines. He noted how the co-op has grown from a couple thousand members in 1950 to one of the largest in the nation. He proudly stated that J.D. Power and Associates rank NOVEC at or near the top in customer satisfaction among all types of the electric utilities across the nation. When Garber praised NOVEC’s linemen for restoring power around the clock in all kinds of weather, the audience applauded.
After his acceptance, Jennifer Nycz-Conner, the Washington Business Journal’s editor-at-large and the awards’ master of ceremonies, said, “I want to thank Manley. Otherwise, we’d all be sitting here in the dark!”
Entrepreneurial Farmer and Businessman
Garber grew up in Woodbridge, Virginia, where he and his three siblings did heavy chores on the family farm before and after school. After high school, Garber worked on the farm full time.
Garber’s entrepreneurial drive led him to start other commercial enterprises, including: a waste-management business; Holly Acres mobile-home park on Route 1; Handy Dandy shopping center in Woodbridge; a surplus business where he bought and sold everything from boxes to bulldozers; a turkey farm in the Shenandoah Valley; and a camper-trailer dealership. Since Garber bought his first 80 acres on Smoketown Road in 1943 for $2000, he has purchased, leased, and sold commercial property – including the property where McDonalds built its first restaurant in Woodbridge.
Community Involvement: Raising ‘more than $130,000’ for March of Dimes
Garber’s community involvement is legendary. His concern for children inspired him to lead NOVEC employees on walks to raise money to help the March of Dimes’ March for Babies, which works to prevent birth defects and infant deaths. According to Molly Redican, March of Dimes development specialist, “Manley Garber has been a top supporter of our march, walking with us and raising more than $130,000 from 2002 up to 2016.” His efforts helped NOVEC become one of the top fundraising companies in the region.
In addition to serving on NOVEC’s board, Garber has served on the boards of the Prince William Hospital, First Manassas Bank, Commonwealth Savings and Loan, Bridgewater College, and Church of the Brethren in Woodbridge.
“On Easter, Dad still gets up at 4:45 a.m. to make fresh sausage gravy for the entire church family,” says Garber’s son, Dan. “He has it ready in time for breakfast at 7 a.m., after Sunrise Service.”
Garber’s ‘wonderful family’
Garber, his wife Kay, and family members were on hand at the awards ceremony to celebrate Garber’s recognition. They represented 11 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.
“I am blessed and so fortunate to have a wonderful family,” Garber said with a smile. “We never had a cross word. How many people can say that?”