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Published: Sunday, 9/22/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

Gordon R. Lanker; 1915-2013: Postmaster was ‘genius,’overcame politics of day

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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Gordon R. Lanker, who led the Toledo post office for several years even as his presidential nomination to be the local postmaster was blocked repeatedly by U.S. senators of the opposing party, died Friday in Swan Creek Retirement Village. He was 98.

He had congestive heart failure and kidney failure, his son Craig said.

Mr. Lanker, formerly of Wreford Court in South Toledo, was a career postal employee, retiring in 1973 as director of operations — second in command — at the Toledo post office, which by then was processing mail for much of northwest Ohio. He’d also been general superintendent of mails.

In 1957, after Postmaster William Kilcorse, died, the Lucas County Republican Party proposed that Mr. Lanker be his successor. Mr. Lanker had been a district postal inspector for four years in Williamsport, Pa., even though most of his career had been in Toledo, where he owned a home. To satisfy postal residency rules, U.S. Sen. John W. Bricker, a Republican, had Mr. Lanker return to Toledo and be postal inspector in charge for six months and then to be acting postmaster for six months.

A formal nomination by President Dwight D. Eisenhower followed. But Senator Bricker was defeated by Stephen Young, a Democrat. Senator Young blocked the nomination, contending that a qualified person should have been chosen from within the Toledo post office.

In 1960, thousands signed petitions urging Mr. Lanker’s confirmation. Year after year, Mr. Eisenhower nominated Mr. Lanker — even in January, 1961, 10 days before the end of his term. Ohio’s U.S. senators, Mr. Young and Frank Lausche, did not budge.

“It was strictly politics,” his son said. “He hung in there and did the job.”

Mr. Lanker was credited, as acting postmaster, with site selection and preliminary planning for a new postal headquarters on South St. Clair. He also moved the post office from hand sorting to mechanical methods. He appeared on local TV to field residents’ post office questions.

“He was a genius, and he was easy to get along with. People liked him,” his son Craig said.

His son Terry added: “He had leadership skill. He had a way of putting things that made you agree with him.”

He was born April 25, 1915, to Flo and Rolla Lanker and grew up on farms near Grand Rapids, Ohio. He was a graduate of Grand Rapids High School and, in 1937, was hired by the post office in Toledo, where an uncle worked.

As a boy, he followed Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight. Later, a magazine picture of a P-38, a military fighter aircraft, caught his attention.

“He was enthralled with the idea of sitting between two great big engines like that and piloting this airplane,” his son Terry said.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Mr. Lanker enlisted in the Army Air Corps and applied to be a pilot. During World War II, he flew reconnaissance missions over Asia, North Africa, and Europe, mostly in B-25s, B-24s, and B-17s. He remained in the Air Force Reserve and retired as a lieutenant colonel.

He was a member of Triad Lodge F&AM and the Zenobia Shrine. He played trumpet and flugelhorn in the Shrine Band, of which he was a past president, and others, including the Deutschmeister German Band.

Several years ago, he dictated his life story to grandson Cory Lanker. The result was a book, Just Another Unsung Hero, the Memoir of Gordon Rolla Lanker.

Mr. Lanker was a member of Glendale Presbyterian Church.

He married the former Vivian Reichart on April 17, 1939. She died Jan. 7, 2002.

Surviving are his sons, Gordon, Jr., Terry, and Craig; nine grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday in the Walter Funeral Home, with Masonic services at 7 p.m. Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the funeral home.

The family suggests tributes to Shriners Hospitals for Children or Senior Independent Hospice..

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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