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Published: Saturday, 6/23/2007

Deshler lawyer noted for telling jokes, cooking

DESHLER, Ohio - Justin "Bob" Gribbell, 91, of Deshler, a lawyer who could cook a great beef roast and tell a good joke, died Wednesday in the Oak Grove Healthcare Center here.

The cause of death was heart failure.

Mr. Gribbell, who was a lawyer for more than 40 years, sold real estate and insurance as well in this Henry County community.

He served as Deshler's solicitor for about 30 years.

Years ago, Mr. Gribbell's father, Fred, and uncle, J. Bruce Gribbell, were lawyers in Deshler. Today, Mr. Gribbell's son-in-law, John Sunderman, and his grandson-in-law, James Rode, are lawyers in Deshler.

Mr. Gribbell worked at a gas station to make enough money during the Depression to attend Ohio State University, where he received a law degree in 1939.

Known for his carpentry skills and his innovative nature, Mr. Gribbell built his first sailboat at the age of 14.

He rigged together an old row boat with a neighbor's awning and tall timbers from the swamps around Devil's Lake in Michigan for the mast, recalled his daughter, Karen Sunderman.

Her father later built a sailboat in the family's garage; he stitched together the sail on his wife's sewing machine. He then had to buy his wife, Ruth, a new machine.

The sailboat was so large that it was a struggle to get it out of the garage, Mrs. Sunderman said.

"He loved sailing that much. He firmly believed that if you want it, you build it. He never thought there was anything he couldn't do."

Mr. Gribbell's son, Gary, recalled that back in the 1950s, his father made the first pair of water skis to hit the water at Devil's Lake. The skis were formed in the family's bathtub so the wood could get moist enough that Mr. Gribbell could bend the tips. Rubber from an inner tube was fashioned into the skis' bindings.

When Mr. Gribbell caught the photography bug, he constructed his own darkroom in the family's cellar. He livened up his black-and-white photography by adding dashes of color.

"He painted people's clothes so they looked like what they wore. He painted in hair color," Mrs. Sunderman said.

Mr. Gribbell delighted in telling jokes to friends, relatives, and strangers. He told his last joke on Monday, his family said.

He would walk down the street, he would go into the post office, he would approach a table of total strangers. Do you like jokes, he would ask. Yes? OK then, and off he would go with his jokes. Three or four sentences followed by a punch line. When he was older, his memory permitted only a line or two, but he was still quick with the kicker.

"He's told jokes from California to Maine, and from Florida to Canada," his son, Gary, said. "He liked to cheer people up by telling jokes."

Local legend has it that Mr. Gribbell introduced a green gourd to the fertile gardens in Henry County. "He was one of the first people to plant zucchini," Mrs. Sunderman said.

Produce from the family garden was canned or frozen by Mr. Gribbell's wife. "We had good eating all winter," Mrs. Sunderman said.

Mr. Gribbell used some of that produce when he put together meals. "He always cooked Sunday dinner. He was very good at making beef roast," Mrs. Sunderman said.

Her sister Nancy Gribbell added that "everything he made was good."

After he retired in 1983, Mr. Gribbell sometimes would walk four miles a day. Recently he used a walker, but he still would walk two blocks down the street and back to his home.

He enjoyed spending time at the Gribbells' winter home in North Port, Fla. He fished some, but pulled up anchor on that sport after he reeled in a 43-inch-long tiger muskellunge. "He never fished after that. He said he could never top that one," Mrs. Sunderman said.

During World War II, Mr. Gribbell served in the Army. Stationed in Hawaii, he installed radar in airplanes and would make sure everything worked, Mrs. Sunderman said.

He met Ruth Hanna at the Deshler Methodist Episcopal Church, where the couple were married Dec. 1, 1940. The church today is the First United Methodist, and Mr. Gribbell was a member there.

Born April 15, 1916, Mr. Gribbell was a member of the Deshler American Legion Post 316; Deshler Lions Club; Deshler Chamber of Commerce; Deshler Builders Group; Deshler Doctors' Committee; Deshler Boy Scout Troop committee; the Ohio Bar Association; the Henry County Bar Association, and Gideons International.

He also was a member of the Corn City State Bank board of directors in Deshler.

Surviving are his wife, Ruth; daughters, Karen Sunderman and Nancy Gribbell; son, Gary; sister, Rose Crosby; five grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 2 p.m. Monday in Rodenberger Funeral Home, Deshler, where visitation will be after 2 p.m. tomorrow

The family suggests tributes to First United Methodist Church or to a charity of the donor's choice.



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