WAYNESFIELD — John Robert Stocker, who was born near Waynesfield in 1913, died there almost 77 years later and is buried near there, was the most solid of citizens.
The community minded Stocker was active in the Masons and the Wayne Grange and, during the 1930s, the annual community institute, a multi-day affair that included talent shows, basket dinners and information on the latest agricultural techniques.
He worked as a guard at Lima State Hospital and, beginning in the early 1950s, as a bus driver and part-time janitor for Waynesfield-Goshen schools. His wife, the former Leona Lawrence, served meals in the school cafeteria and worked at Gregg’s department store in Lima. The couple wed in 1937 in a ceremony in Westminster. Their only child, a daughter named Constance Lynette, was born in 1943 and died in 1971.
Around Waynesfield, Stocker was known as Bob or Robert or sometimes J.R., except around Christmas. When the air turned cold and the vibrant colors of autumn gave way to more muted hues, Stocker, too, was transformed.
“Waynesfield has its own Santa Claus,” the Lima Citizen wrote Dec. 21, 1962. “His name is Robert Stocker, a fellow with a big heart whose favorite hobby is making kids happy. Bob ascribes to the theory that Christmas means a lot to little people. ‘If Christmas isn’t fun, it ruins the whole year,’ he explains. If he had his way about it, Christmas would be a humdinger for all children everywhere.”
Throughout the year, the newspaper explained, Stocker gathered toys, “filling his small workshop with broken dolls, tops, wagons, trucks and a host of other playthings. Squeezing out a few hours each day after his work at the Lima State Hospital, Bob patches and repairs toys.”
“Neighbors stop him on the street throughout the year to tell him they have toys to bring,” The Lima News wrote Dec. 2, 1962. “’I find them on my door step some mornings,’ he says.”
The paint and parts, the Citizen added, were bought out of his own pocket, “but some people and organizations help with small donations and gifts of new toys.” Help came in other ways, too. A group of women made clothes for dolls while other village residents pitched in to help Stocker repair used toys. “On Christmas Eve Bob and a friend will deliver the toys to about 60 children in the community,” the Citizen wrote.
Stocker, the Citizen wrote, “started the project about two years ago working with the Wayne Grange. Last year he played Santa on his own and is continuing this year.”
“This year,” the Lima News noted in its 1962, story, “Bob has about 500 toys displayed in the empty Bowman and Shaw store room in Waynesfield. There’s a tricycle he made from five broken tricycles. There’s a robot good as new after being brought in at a standstill. Dolls are all attired in new clothes, the work of seven women in the community.”
The toys arrived at his workshop in all shapes, sizes and conditions, Stocker told the News. “Some need hardly any repair at all. Many are dolls without an arm or leg, a broken mechanical toy, a truck without a wheel or a scrubby hobby horse,” the News wrote. “Minor repairs he does in a few minutes but major mechanical breakdowns, he often works on for a little while and then lays aside. His most recent longtime project is rebuilding a child’s baby grand piano.”
Stocker, the Citizen explained, “received the names of some less fortunate children from the Salvation Army and learned of others himself. Each child will receive more than one toy. That’s part of Stocker’s theory. ‘In this day and age, most children get several gifts … the less fortunate should too.’”
Despite the work involved, he told the Citizen, he enjoyed the project. “I do it mainly to show that somebody cares,” he said.
Stocker died Jan. 24, 1990. He is buried in Walnut Hill Cemetery beside his wife, who died in 2000.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.