A couple years ago, there seemed to be two possible paths for Bob Gardner and his family:
The pulpit or the spotlight.
God seemed to win out, though, eventually leading Gardner to become the newest pastor of Key to My Father’s House Church, 1825 Reimer Road, Wadsworth.
Gardner was serving as interim pastor this spring but was officially voted into the job April 28. The church, commonly known as Key Church, is non-denominational and has been around for about 18 years. Attendance runs about 125 worshippers every Sunday, and Gardner wants to see it become more of a “presence” in town.
“We’re kind of on the outskirts of town but I want people to know that name, so that when there is a problem, they know to come to us,” he said, adding that in today’s culture, people are growing more disconnected than ever.
“You can get a job from home, you can order your groceries delivered to your door; by no stretch of the imagination, you really never have to interact with anybody,” he said. “So it’s never been more important that people have community. That was what church is all about, having community.”
In the month Gardner has been at the church, he has been pouring himself into that goal.
“I’m highly motivated and I like to run, run, run,” he said. “I’ve been here a month and I’m meeting with the high school coach to be the team chaplain this fall and arranging to lead services this summer at a local campground.”
Gardner is married to Chrissy Gardner, a licensed counselor and mom to the couple’s four children, ages 11, 9, 6, and 3.
Gardner’s background has a lot of church work, enterprising inventions — and a surprising number of game shows.
Originally from Louisiana, he lived most of his life in northeast Ohio and found himself living in the Columbus area, serving as the worship pastor at an Upper Arlington church. The family moved to Vermilion seven years ago to take a similar position at Lakeview Baptist Church, before losing the job unexpectedly.
“But God was working things out — I didn’t go a week without a paycheck before I got offered the job of campus pastor at the new Open Door Church in Vermilion,” he said.
He served as the coach of the Sailorway Middle School football team and was the chaplain for the Vermilion High School Sailors football team.
While he was there, he used his on-the-job experience conducting funerals to invent the Memory Maker, a kiosk installed at funeral homes that gives mourners an opportunity to record their memories of the deceased for the family as a permanent memento. An investor got involved and the business started doing so well that he came to the point where he had to leave his primary job.
His business, Capstone, has partnered with Schoedinger Funeral Homes in Columbus and there also are kiosks in the Cleveland and Pittsburgh areas. His wife has taken on much of the work, and business partners, he said, and there are plans for expansion.
In October, however, he went back to work for a company maintaining telemetry equipment in hospitals and took on a part-time position as youth pastor at A Fresh Wind Church in Amherst.
The business travel became too much — after he was gone 45 nights in a few months, he knew he couldn’t continue.
“I wasn’t there to be a husband, a father, a youth pastor,” he said. “So I did what I knew to do.”
Throughout the years, though, there have been sparks of Gardner’s not-so-secret fascination with game shows.
“My whole life, I’ve been obsessed with them,” he said, laughing. “I was on “The $100,000 Pyramid” last summer. I lost. But I’ve been considered for three more. Two times, I was flown out to LA, had a wardrobe fitting, everything. One was “Hollywood Game Night.” The other one was with Kevin Hart, like “Wipeout,” but they called it “American Ninja Warrior for the Everyday Joe.”
“So I get there and there are all these personal trainers and gymnasts, and I thought ‘This is bullcrap. They’re bringing me on here to make fun of me.’ But I got to keep my cool shoes they gave me,” he said.
One time he replied to an ad that said: “Are you a former high school college athlete looking to get back in prime shape? Is your family looking to lose weight?”
“Next thing I know they’re filming a trailer to pitch to TLC. We signed a filming contract and everything. We had five calls in a week, we flew to LA, then they just dropped it. It didn’t get picked up,” he said.
Just last week, he got a call from Hollywood - a year after he applied to take his Memory Maker on “Shark Tank.”
He is expecting to hear from a producer to see if they will bring him on the show.
In between all of that, the family is planning to move to Wadsworth from Vermilion once his kids have wrapped up their school year.
He said he is looking forward to making connections in his new community and opening wide the doors of the church.
“God has put eternity on everyone’s heart and I think everybody in the whole world sometimes has trouble falling asleep at high because they don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring,” he said.