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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

May 09, 2019

Gil Vatter: A Life Set to Music

Gil Vatter new jersey

Gil Vatter attends Easter Mass at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Holmdel.

Gilbert W. Vatter may be an “elder statesman” at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Holmdel, but his service and schedule indicate otherwise. At 92 years young, Vatter, like the church, remains vital in today’s 21st century world through singing in the choir, volunteering as a lay reader, administering the Bayshore Lunch Program, chairing the audit committee, maintaining the historical record, writing for the monthly newsletter and “any other assistance I can offer,” he said.

A self-avowed cradle Lutheran, Vatter grew up in the Pennsylvania Dutch community of Lancaster. After attending Lancaster public schools and graduating from J.P. McCaskey High School in 1945, just as World War II was winding down, Vatter enlisted in the Navy.

At only age 17, he served as a Seaman Second Class on the aircraft carrier USS Princeton. He remained a member of the crew until late 1948, when, as Quartermaster Second Class, he received an honorable discharge and returned to Pennsylvania as a civilian.

His military service qualified him for the GI Bill of Rights. He applied and was accepted by Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster where he earned a BA in German in May 1953. That month was important to Vatter for another reason: “I married my wife, Patty, who I met at a church choir,” he said.

Meeting his wife at a church choir was fitting. Throughout his service to the military and a 40-year career in the watch and clock industry, music remained an integral part of Vatter’s life. He played clarinet and saxophone through public school, high school and college. Even in the Navy, he led a volunteer dance band, playing ship’s dances and holiday events.

Vatter added vocal music to his repertoire when his father introduced him to the Choir Master at church.

“I also had the privilege of singing in the 100-voice Bluejackets Choir during boot camp in Illinois,” he recalled.

Music strikes a chord with his family, too. Patty sings in the church choir. Vatter’s two daughters – Carol Vatter, a career stockbroker from Long Island, and Julia Tibbett, an elementary school music teacher in Freehold Township – both were involved in instrumental music during their school years. Julia has been a freelance violinist and a member of the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra. Two grandsons, Kirk and Liam Tibbett, live in Freehold.

Gil Vetter New Jersey nj

Gil Vatter and his wife, Patty, present a check from Good Shepherd to the directors of the Bayshore Lunch Program.

In addition to the church choir, Vatter raises his voice in social activism. His involvement in social causes took root in his 30s, when a dynamic young clergyman, Dr. Wallace E. Fisher of the Trinity Lutheran Church, challenged him to become involved in the church beyond the music program. Serving on the church vestry, where Vatter was assigned to the Social Ministry Committee, eventually led to a more responsible role on the Social Action Committee.

“That was the catalyst that drew me into the many social problems inside our community, including racial inequality and the need for affordable community housing,” Vatter said. “This was the early 1960s when few people were interested in social problems and the Civil Rights movement was just gaining steam.”

Vatter recalled one memorable occasion when committee members joined with other concerned citizens, black and white, on the steps of the Lancaster County Court House.

“We showed our unity and concern by joining arms and singing ‘We Shall Overcome,’” he said. “It was an experience I will not soon forget.”

Over the years, as his career took Vatter and his family to Little Neck, New York; Darien, Illinois; and eventually to Middletown in July 1976, he remained involved in the Lutheran church, music and social ministry activities. Within a few weeks of settling in Middletown, Vatter and his family joined Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

“We were attracted by its fine music program and energetic young pastor,” he said.

In addition to joining the choir with his wife, Vatter gradually took on additional responsibilities at Good Shepherd. After being elected to the Church Council in the late 1970s, he served on a variety of committees and was elected Council president in 1980 and re-elected in 1997, 1998, 2009 and 2010.

Today, Vatter shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to enjoy a life enriched by family, community service, social activism and, of course, music.

Good Shepherd Committed to Community Service

Gil Vatter and his family are devoted to serving their community through many activities at the Good Shepherd Church in Holmdel.

The one nearest his heart is the Bayshore Lunch Program (BLP), which Good Shepherd has supported since its inception in 2013, when the kitchen was established at the Community Church in Keyport and also served a hot meal each month at the kitchen at St. Mark’s in Keansburg for 15 years before that.

Good Shepherd’s Social Ministry Committee provides food and financial assistance to BLP through two programs. Each month, the Food Collection Program collects and delivers food donated by the congregation. The BLP Sponsor’s Program, which Vatter and his wife founded, sends monthly financial help from members of the parish.  BLP welcomes and provides hot meals for 60 to 80 people five days a week and offers counseling and medical services.

The Good Shepherd Church is also an active member of the Community Outreach Group and supports the Calico Cat Evening Food Pantry with cleaning and personal care items, the Back to School program, the Christmas Gift program and others. The congregation also participates in the Red Bank Crop Walk each spring to collect food and funds to help the needy.

Each spring, Miae Park, the church’s minister of music, produces a church concert to benefit local and worldwide charities, such as victims of the Haiti earthquake, victims of the Japanese tsunami, victims of the Colombia floods, Malaria relief, Wells for Africa, the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, Family Promise, Lunch Break, Doctors Without Borders and the Bayshore Lunch Program. This year’s program on June 2 will benefit The Arc of Monmouth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing services and support to more than 1,600 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in our county.

The Good Shepherd Church’s goal is to send 12 to 14 percent or more of its annual income as “outreach” to the world. The church has achieved this goal for many years.