Robert Durm (from left), Tim Skalla, Elaine Metzger, Gerhard Gipner, Margrit Gipner and the Rev. Fran Lane-Lawrence take pleasure in seeing the newly restored gravesite of John Gipner. (Daily Star photo/BRETT PHILLIPS)
Robert Durm (from left), Tim Skalla, Elaine Metzger, Gerhard Gipner, Margrit Gipner and the Rev. Fran Lane-Lawrence take pleasure in seeing the newly restored gravesite of John Gipner. (Daily Star photo/BRETT PHILLIPS)

Archived Story

Gipner gravesite dedicated at Silverbrook Cemetery

Published 6:04pm Monday, May 31, 2010

By BRETT PHILLIPS
Niles Daily Star

After immigrating to America from Germany in 1884, John Gipner spent his lifetime as a master gardener, creating stunning works of landscaping.

Working for the Michigan Central Railroad, he designed a garden for the Niles Amtrak Depot that became famous throughout the country. Some say that Gipner and his garden “put Niles on the map.”

After a long restoration process of Gipner’s grave, the Four Flags Garden Club and the Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery were finally ready to dedicate the grave of this famous former Niles resident.

Gipner’s grave is one of thousands the Friends of Silverbrook is helping to preserve and restore in its ongoing efforts.

Elaine Metzger, president of the Four Flags Garden Club, could only describe Gipner’s grave as “despicable” before the restoration process began.

“It just didn’t seem right,” she said.

Tim Skalla, president of the Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery, agreed with Metzger.
“As much as he did for our town, his gravesite was much to be desired,” he said.

However, with the help of Metzger and the Four Flags Garden Club, along with members of the Gipner family, Skalla and the Friends of Silverbrook turned the gravesite into a work of art to honor the great gardener.

Also in attendance at the ceremony was Robert Durm, mayor pro-tem of Niles. Durm spoke of the important role Gipner had in the development of Niles and stressed his devotion to the town.

“He helped promote and beautify our city,” Durm said. “He also helped earn us one of our nicknames – ‘The Garden City.’”

While research was being done on the Gipner family, a descendant was found. Gerhard Gipner and his wife Margrit traveled to Niles from California to speak at the event.

Gerhard was able to tell of his relative’s life and of the wonderful creations he gave to Niles.  He also had to admit he “had no idea” he was related to Gipner until a few years ago.

Following the ceremony was a reception at the Niles Amtrak Depot. During the reception, a photo tribute to Gipner was unveiled, and a recreation of his gardens was on display. In addition, several Niles residents who remember seeing the master gardener as children spoke of their fond memories of Gipner.

Based on a tradition started by Gipner himself, everyone was invited to take a flower with them as they left the station.

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