Remembering Arthur Gerstenberger

1924-2016

One summer afternoon in 2009, Arthur Gerstenberger, former general manager for the Hanover Co-op in Hanover, N.H., made a surprise visit to a celebration honoring the co-op’s employees. Photos from that afternoon show him at his best, with his warm, broad face and cheerful eyes. He wore a light gray polo shirt and pressed chinos. His thick, white hair glistened in the sun.

Gerstenberger took a seat at a table under a small tent. Before long, others took turns gathering around him to greet him and hear what he had to say. But Gerstenberger wanted to listen, not talk. People would later say it was typical of the man they always knew: engaged, curious, and vested in the cooperative he steered for decades.

“Arthur’s good-natured intelligence, his concern for co-op members and employees, and his just plain decency will be greatly missed,” said Harrison Drinkwater, a Hanover Co-op board member.

Gerstenberger died August 15, 2016, after a brief illness. He was 92.

The Hanover Co-op is one of the oldest food co-ops in the country. It was formed in the winter of 1936, when several families pooled their resources to order cases of citrus and staple groceries difficult to come by during the Great Depression.

Gerstenberger began working for the co-op in 1949. He worked in several departments and served as general manager from 1965 to 1988. He led the organization through decades of unprecedented growth and, to many, created the template for a cooperative manager that still serves as a model for others nationwide.

“Arthur was a top-notch individual who knew how to balance to the needs of the co-op with the needs of running it as a business, which is challenging for any leader of a cooperative,” said Norm Turcotte, retired CEO and former board member of Associated Grocers of New England. “He also inherently knew whether a business decision was in the general manager’s purview or if it was the board’s responsibility. Successful co-ops are built on such insight.”

Gerstenberger served on the boards of the Hanover Credit Union, Mid-East Cooperatives, the Cooperative League of the USA, the Memorial Society of N.H., and Associated Grocers of New England. He had a unique blend of humility, folksy wit, and high-level business acumen. In 1988, he was honored at the Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA) conference in Iowa City for his lifetime of leadership. After retirement, he continued to support the cooperative movement.

“I have Art to thank for inspiring me to launch, and stick with, a career in cooperatives,” said Karen Zimbelman, director of membership and cooperative relations, National Co+op Grocers. “Art showed me, through his quiet and disciplined example, what it means to dedicate my life to this wonderful thing called ‘co-op.’ Our strong grocery co-op sector today owes Art an enormous debt of gratitude.” 

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