John Gunckel was the founder and life president of the Toledo Newsboys Association. The Newsboys Association was dedicated to taking care of the boys of the streets and making certain that they grew up to be responsible adults. Gunckel believed there was good in every boy and girl.[John E. Gunckel, in The Story of the Maumee Valley, Toledo and the Sandusky Region, Charles S. Van Tassel, ed. (Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1929), 269-270.]
John Elstner Gunckel was born in Germantown, Ohio, on August 14, 1846. After attending Oberlin College for three years he moved to Toledo in 1875. Though starting out in real estate he eventually became employed as a ticket agent for the Lakeshore and Michigan Southern Railroad. He was promoted to a traveling passenger agent and ended up representing the railroad for twenty years.
It was during this time that John Gunckel began taking newsboys and the other boys of the street out to dinner. Soon Gunckel was holding Sunday afternoon entertainment for the boys. Finally, in 1891 he gathered over 100 newsboys together for a Christmas dinner. Following the dinner, John Gunckel formed the Toledo Newsboys Association. Once, when speaking about his program, he said, "There are in all of us hereditary tendencies to both vice and virtue, and under favorable surroundings these tendencies will either be dormant or developed".[Trustees of Toledo Newsboys Association, In Memory of John E. Gunckel: Founder and Life President of the National and Toledo Newsboys Association (Toledo: Trustees of Toledo Newsboys Association, 1915), pp.49-50]. Gunckel taught the boys to play square, live clean, be honest and respect others.(Van Tassel, p.270). As Newsboys they were forbidden to smoke or swear.(Trustees p.34). The Newsboys often would bring to John Gunckel all the lost items they found on the street.(Ibid., p.49).
In 1904, at the St. Louis Worlds Fair, John Gunckel announced the formation of the National Newsboys Association. He was president for life of both the Toledo and the national organizations.(Ibid., p.8). The Newsboys Association also included the Newsboys Cadets, the Newsboys Sisters Auxiliary, and the Newsboys Band.(Van Tassel, p.272).
For all his charitable work John Gunckel was much beloved. He once declined an offer from the Lake Shore railroad to pay his salary while he worked full time with the boys. He turned down offers to run for mayor because he was so devoted to his work. John Gunckel was an honorary member of every club in Toledo.(Trustees, p.8). In 1909 the Newsboys building was built on Superior Street with contributions from Newsboys' and businesses.(Van Tassel, p.270).
John Gunckel spoke and wrote about the Newsboys nationwide. He gave talks to state teachers associations and even appeared on the platforms with politicians, such as William Jennings Bryan.(Trustees, p.13). John Gunckel told the story of the Toledo Newsboys association in his book Boyville.(Van Tassel, p.274).
John Gunckel died on August 16, 1915, and thousands of citizens in Toledo mourned. On the day of his services many people waited outside the Newsboys Building to be admitted. After the funeral service, the Newsboys Band led the procession to Woodlawn Cemetery. People watched the procession from the streets and from inside the cemetery. John Gunckel was put in his vault and many people walked on a ground covered with flowers. The children gave small bouquets, while white rosebuds formed the name Gunck.(Trustees, p.13).
Later the Newsboys would honor John Gunckel by donating and collecting money to build a monument to him at Woodlawn. It is a pyramid made of stones donated by the children. The epitaph reads:
Who saw in every boy a man
Of worth and purpose like Gods plan
and said to him: Do right-You can!The Boys Club of America.
(A pamphlet concerning the Toledo Newsboys Association. The Boys Club of America).
It is a tribute to John Gunckel that even after almost fifteen years the city of Toledo was still giving recognition to his contributions. John Gunckel had brought the first Lotus flower to Toledo from the Nile Valley. On August 14, 1929, John Gunckels birthday, was proclaimed to be Lotus flower day by Mayor William T. Jackson. People were encouraged to go to Gunckels monument at Woodlawn for a ceremony to mark the day.(Van Tassel p.272). For many years over 1000 people would turn out at Woodlawn on the anniversary of his death.(John Gunckel Memorial Crumbling, Toledo Blade 4 October 1979). The city of Toledo loved and respected John Gunckel.