Janesville loses longtime community backer, videographer
JANESVILLE—Janesville has lost a native son who made a mark on local hearts and minds with his charity work, humor and kindness, and videos.
Howard P. Gage Jr. died Friday at age 81, as a result of complications from a fall several weeks ago, said his granddaughter and business partner, Brittany Bailey.
Gage always had a warm twinkle in his eye, joked often and managed to get many things done without stepping on anybody’s toes, said those who knew him.
He also rubbed elbows with Green Bay Packers greats Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi. He organized efforts to commemorate those men’s connections to Janesville and arranged for Starr to appear here in 2010.
An avid Packers fan, he was very proud of those efforts, said his son Andrew.
Gage made a big impact behind the scenes as the news media contact for the Janesville School District for 23 years and in fundraising and promoting of the local Salvation Army and United Way.
He was instrumental in establishing the Janesville Education Foundation, which has awarded grants to teachers for classroom projects and technology improvements since the 1970s, said retired teacher and foundation member Roberta Blazkowski.
Blazkowski thought of Gage as “Mr. Janesville” and found him a great help when she came to the school district as a young teacher in 1973.
“Anything you wanted know about, he could help you out with. He was really a remarkable person—warm, caring and dedicated to this community and to the School District of Janesville,” Blazkowski said.
Gage graduated from Janesville High School in 1955 and UW-Madison in 1959, marrying his high school sweetheart soon afterward. They raised three sons, Andrew, Greg and John.
His widow, Janice Gage, said a girlfriend in high school was dating Gage’s friend, and she proposed a double date one day in 11th grade.
“Not that clown in my English class. I can’t stand him,” she recalled saying. “Well, 58 years later,” she said, ending with a chuckle.
“He always had a joke to tell,” and he was always busy with work, volunteering and raising his children, never missing one of his children’s sports competitions, Janice recalled.
Gage was involved with communications technologies from the days of tape recording and well into the internet age. He produced news shows for WISC-TV for a short time, eventually returning to Janesville and working in marketing for Hough Manufacturing for nine years, according to Gazette files.
Gage then took a job as the Janesville School District’s public-relations manager in 1975, retiring in 1998.
Among his accomplishments was setting up the first video broadcasting of school board meetings. In 1986, he established Videogenics, a video business, with his son John.
“My grandpa was the business-savvy guy, and my dad was the behind-the-scenes creative type,” Bailey recalled. “They had a beautiful relationship because they kind of balanced each other.”
John died in a traffic crash in 2008 at age 41.
John was working on a documentary of Janesville's historic flooding that year. Howard completed the work and sold the videos, donating proceeds to a flood recovery fund.
It was one in a long line of video productions by the Gages, often done to promote agencies such as the United Way.
Gage also started Journeys in Faith, a website featuring video testimonials.
Videogenics survives into the digital age. After her father’s death, Bailey moved to Janesville and joined the business. She plans to continue it without her grandfather but with the help of her sister, Emily Gage.
“He taught me everything I know about video as well as the business side of it,” Bailey said. “We had an amazing relationship because we got to kind of grow together, working through that (grief). ... He was a man of faith, and we both got to grow together through that, as well. I owe him a lot.”
Gage’s service to his community included stints as president of the Janesville Salvation Army, Janesville Toastmasters, Janesville Education Foundation and chairman of the board and campaign chairman for the United Way of Northern Rock County, now United Way Blackhawk Region.
“Just one of the nicest men I’ve ever known in my life. He was always there for you when you needed to talk about something,” said Gary Smith, former longtime executive director of the local United Way.
“When my wife died, he was a blessing to me, just his friendship, his demeanor, his compassion, it was there,” Smith said. “He was there when I needed somebody to be consoling, or just to be a friend.”
Sue Conley, who worked with Gage through the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin, called Gage “an all-around good guy, one of those people in the community who goes about their work quietly and yet really does leave an impact. I think everything he did came from his heart. He always did it for the right reasons.”
The family expects to announce funeral arrangements later this week, with services possibly next week, Bailey said.