Longtime Naperville educator remembered for 'long and fruitful' service
Ron Gibson had a knack for recognizing potential.
He saw it in students, teachers and administrators. He noticed it in classrooms and school buildings. And he used it in every plan he crafted and every problem he solved during his 38-year career as an educator and administrator in Naperville Unit District 203.
Gibson, a longtime Naperville resident, died April 2 at the Sunrise of Naperville senior living facility at the age of 78. Those who worked with him closely say Gibson left a lasting impression on the district -- even after his retirement in 2004 -- through his compassion, insight and ability to leverage a community's collective strength.
"He was one of those people whose influence really reaches beyond the position he held," said Julie Beehler, director of administrative support and former elementary school principal. "As someone who worked for him, you always felt that you were more capable or more inspired or more valued after you had a conversation with him."
Gibson's career in District 203 began at Lincoln Junior High School, where he first was a student teacher and later was hired full time in 1966, according to a statement from the district. He went on to serve as principal of Beebe Elementary School and then director of personnel before becoming the first principal of Steeple Run Elementary School when it opened in 1977.
In 1982, Gibson became the associate superintendent of elementary education -- a role he held until he retired. Four years later, Steeple Hill Elementary School was dedicated to him.
"Ron's service to this district was long and fruitful," district officials said in a statement. "He will forever be remembered as a founding father of the Naperville 203 we know today."
Gibson, originally from Earlville, received a bachelor's degree from North Central College and a master's degree from the University of Illinois, according to an obituary. He and his late wife, Joan, moved back to Naperville to raise their family and launch their education careers.
Throughout his career, Gibson excelled at recognizing students' needs and instituting plans to address them, said Beehler, who has known Gibson since she started working at the district 35 years ago. He was instrumental in creating new programs and was responsible for turning school libraries into "learning centers" that offer better student collaboration, she said.
With a quick wit and energetic personality, Gibson's leadership style extended far beyond creativity and innovation, Beehler said. He was known for consistently introducing new "growth opportunities" to district principals. He helped Beehler navigate her administrative career through early motherhood. And he was one of the first people to donate to her son's fundraiser for a Global Medical Brigades trip to Honduras.
Gibson believed in people, she said, and he always found a way to connect with them.
"He knew that when people feel they're valued, they display infinite potential to make a difference," Beehler said. "I think those of us who were leaders with Ron have that in us."
Gibson often credited his accomplishments to his colleagues and the district employees he hired and mentored during his career, loved ones said. Gibson's son, Greg, said he's heard many professional stories about his father in the last week that "are consonant with the dad I've known throughout my life. He was a great administrator and a good person, and I think the latter is a big reason for the former."
Gibson is survived by three children and four grandchildren.
A visitation will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Friedrich-Jones Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 44 S. Mill St., Naperville. Interment is private.