Don Gobel, who recently made arrangements for two substantial gifts to Loma Linda University Cancer Center, picked a momentous day to retire.
At the end of a high-powered career in the hunting and shooting industry, Gobel chose a late-summer Tuesday as the day to step down from his position as CEO of both Browning North America and Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Before joining Browning, he had held a similar position with Weaver Rifle Scope Company, which—at that time—was owned by Winchester.
“The parent company of Browning is in Belgium, so I went to Europe an average of five times a year,” he shares. “I got to see the world on 150 international trips. Once a year, I took my wife with me and we toured for a week. I bet I’ve been in Brussels airport, the one that was hit by terrorists in March, at least 75 times.”
It wasn’t the only point of contact between Gobel’s career and international terrorism.
“I retired on the very day of 9/11,” he shares, recalling the fateful date in 2001 when Al Qaeda operatives crashed commercial airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field.
“I was in a meeting in Hartford, Connecticut, and got stuck there three days,” he informs. “We were told by a highway patrolman to evacuate our hotel.”
At the time, Gobel and his wife, Liz, had been living a transcontinental life.
“We lived in Utah and Connecticut,” he explains. “Every two weeks, we flew from Salt Lake City to Chicago and then to the New Haven airport, which was just 10 minutes from our condo.”
The unusual living arrangement was necessitated by the fact that, for the last seven years of his 20-year career with Browning, Gobel was also the CEO of Winchester. While Browning was based in the very small intermountain town of Morgan, Utah, Winchester was—at the time—headquartered in Connecticut.
Since both companies were owned by the same parent firm, and Gobel had done an exemplary job at Browning, he was asked to lead Winchester as well. The only way he could effectively do both jobs simultaneously was to live in both places, so he and Liz became frequent flyers.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, as the son of Swedish immigrants, Gobel moved with his family to Glendale, California, when he was 8. Four years later, he met his future wife when he was 12 and she was 8. “We went to the same church until she moved away,” he reports. “Then she came back as a teenager and I said, ‘Wow!’”
During his senior year in high school, Gobel won a $600 business scholarship from Bob Wian, founder of the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant chain. He used the money to further his education, graduating from Woodbury University with a major in finance and accounting in 1956. That same year, he and Liz were married in Glendale. They will celebrate their 60th anniversary later this year.
Liz hadn’t exactly been thrilled when Gobel told her he had accepted the position with Browning in the backwoods of Utah. “We’re gonna move to where?” she had asked incredulously.
In reality, the job took Gobel to an even more remote location. The address may say Morgan, but the executive offices are 10 miles further into the “boonies” in an unincorporated borough called Mountain Green. The company needed a good spot to build a rural firearms-testing facility and liked the isolation Mountain Green afforded.
“The hunting and shooting industry is always very conservative,” Gobel explains. “The majority of the employees love and use the products of the company. It adds an extra amount of enjoyment.”
For an avid hunter like Gobel, one of the perks of working in the industry was getting to hunt a lot. Once a year, he took a major hunting trip, usually to some exotic destination. The tables turned, however, when the hunter became the hunted.
“I’m a three-time cancer survivor,” he reveals. “When I was 35, I had a melanoma on my back. I didn’t know what it was, nor did I take it seriously. But when I finally went to see the doctor, he told me, ‘I have made an appointment for you and your oncologist tomorrow. No matter what else is on your calendar, be there anyway.’”
After a successful bout of treatment, Gobel was required to maintain frequent visits to his doctor to make sure the cancer did not return. “I was checked constantly for three years,” he reports.
The second time cancer stalked Gobel was in 1990. “I was in Belgium,” he shares, “and had the most severe abdominal pain ever. It turned out to be non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I had six chemo treatments and 27 radiation treatments.”
Twenty-three years later, the voracious predator returned. By this time, Gobel and Liz had moved to Banning on the recommendation of his brother, Roy, who—after researching the best places in America for golfers to retire—had triumphantly declared, “This is the place!”
Fortunately, Highland Springs Medical Plaza—a collaboration between Loma Linda University Health, Beaver Medical Group, Redlands Community Hospital and San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital—is just up the road from the Gobel residence.
“I started treatment at the main campus of Loma Linda University Medical Center,” he reports. “The cancer returned very strongly. They said, ‘It’s going too fast now.’ So they put me on chemotherapy, and then I got a report of no cancer. I can be the best spokesperson for the Loma Linda University Cancer Center.”
Gobel found cancer difficult to face. “Emotionally, it him me harder in 1990,” he discloses, “when I was in the middle of my career. But I have a strong faith in God, and I know where I’m going when I die.”
Dying isn’t on the agenda anytime soon, however. With the locus of his cancer therapy moved from the main campus to the satellite Cancer Center in Highland Springs, Gobel enjoys his frequent appointments with Frank Howard, MD, a hematology/oncology specialist.
“Dr. Frank Howard is fabulous,” he says. “Allie, the head nurse at Highland Springs, comes up to me and says, ‘Dr. Howard couldn’t be any better!’ I agree. The only complaint I have is his socks. He wears the wildest socks! But I walk in and I don’t even have to sign in. They know who I am, it’s not crowded, they treat me right away.”
The other person who made a huge impression on Gobel is Carlos Garberoglio, MD, professor of surgery and chair of the department of surgery at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Gobel likes Garberoglio’s patient way of explaining things, and has decided, on the basis of his positive experiences as a Cancer Center patient, to leave two gifts as a means of showing his appreciation.
The first will arrive in late 2016 after the sale of a highly appreciated stock, which has already been donated to a donor-advised fund. The second will be an estate gift. Both will assist the Loma Linda University Cancer Center in continuing to provide hope and healing for years to come.
Looking back, Gobel is grateful to God for the gift of life and for leading him to the Cancer Center.
“I walk in,” he concludes, “and they treat me like I’m a hero.”