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2023 Man of the Year Gary Zuber is Respected and Irreverent

The Kern Valley Chamber of Commerce's 2023 Man of the Year Gary Zuber has spent years donating his time to help local veterans.
Posted at 6:45 PM, Jan 19, 2024

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. — If you've spent more than a minute with Gary Zuber, you’ve probably heard his deep, sonorous laugh, which is ready to erupt at any moment.

For his love and dedication to the Kern River Valley, he has been voted as 2023 Man of the Year.

Zuber is known for helping organize and start the veteran’s breakfast that takes place once a month at the VFW in Lake Isabella.

“They started it down in Bakersfield,” Zuber explained, “Can't we do that up here? One thing led to another, we got with the VFW here, they opened their doors and said, ‘Let's do this.’”

Volunteers come together to put on the breakfast, with Everett, a veteran, cooking the breakfast.

“He's not a cook, he's a chef,” Zuber said, “I mean, this guy whips up some incredible breakfast.”

Veterans eat for free and community members come to volunteer an serve them.

“Margie is part of the staff. She comes and helps serve,” Zuber said, talking about 2023 Woman of the Year Margie Furuya.

The breakfast fosters community.

“A lot of them, this is what they look forward to once a month,” Zuber said, “The stories you hear, you wouldn't believe some of the people that have come up through these doors.”

Zuber says one of his honors was to watch local veterans get interviewed by the Library of Congress for their Veteran History Project.

“It's like an extension of my family. For some reason they like to pick on me a lot. I don't know why that is,” Zuber said laughing.

In the eight years since it started, Zuber has made it to every single breakfast, except one, which he had to miss during his fight with cancer.

The breakfast also serves as a fundraiser for Honor Flight.

Zuber says he's seen firsthand the impact this organization has had on veterans from the Kern River Valley.

“They never talk,” Zuber said, invoking his father, a World War Two veteran that didn’t speak about his experience during the war.

“Once they have gone it's almost like a healing. These people come back changed, able to share.”

Zuber calls the veterans up to check-in and remind them of the breakfast.

“It’s sometimes very bittersweet because I’ll pick up that phone and it will ring and ring and ring and your heart just sinks. A lot of times they’ve passed,” said Zuber, “It’s hard because they passed, but at least we got to honor them before that happened. They got to go out with dignity.”

“It's an honor. It really is an honor to do this,” Zuber said.

He’s quick with a joke, goofing around with everyone around him.

His ties to the valley are strong, coming up here ever since he was a kid, helping his dad build a house up here.

“This is where I belong.”

During his time here, he's created countless connections and started his own family.

“I have three sons, doing very well. I’m proud of all of them.”

“There was just like always this constant thing of, if you can help someone, if you see someone in need and you can help, you do something,” his son Chris Zuber said in a speech honoring his father.

He's coming up on 40 years of marriage with his wife Karen.

“My wife, she's incredible. If it wasn't for her, I don't know where I would be.”

“Gary always tells me I married up,” Assemblymember Vince Fong said at the Man and Woman of the Year Dinner, “And I will tell you I'm gonna repay the compliment, you really married up,” Fong said.

“Oh I know that,” Zuber responded.

The Man of the Year was praised and teased in equal measure during the dinner.

“He raised his children here, that also serve our community, which is a testament to what a good father he is,” said Catehrine Stachowiak, who nominated him for man of the year.

He doesn't feel comfortable with the recognition, but he's always happy to be around his community.

“There's so many people that just do what they like, and that's what I'm doing. And so to be honored for doing that seems foreign. But… It's cool. It’s cool.”

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