Ezra William Ober. “Whenever a new railroad was to be secured, a new institution located, a new business brought to town, E. W. Ober was at the head of the list and generally headed the committee that landed the addition to Salina. There is probably not a permanent institution in the city today secured by general effort where Mr. Ober was not the leading spirit.” Such a tribute, voicing the general opinion of a community, can be paid only to the exceptional man. The late E. W. Ober was in every sense an exceptional man. He had good business ability, prospered in his own affairs, but of even more importance he combined with private interests a fine public spirit, and was willing to sacrifice his individual advantage many times in order that the city might be the better and larger. The record of such a citizen had its own distinct value in the general record of Kansas.
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Ezra William Ober was born at Center on Mount Desert Island in the State of Maine January 22, 1851, and died at his home, 508 South Santa Fe Avenue, in Salina February 8, 1916. He was reared and educated in the East and when only eighteen years of age in 1869 he identified himself with the then small Village of Salina, Kansas. He arrived in the town with the Ohio colony.
His first employment was in the S. Amrine general merchandise store. At that time Mr. Amrine was county treasurer and Mr. Ober soon became his secretary. A year later he opened a butcher shop, then clerked in the C. W. Tressin hardware store, was also in the real estate business and during 1870 had employment in the general merchandise store of S. M. and B. L. Wilson. In 1871 Mr. Ober opened his first independent store in an old frame building on a portion of the site now occupied by the Central Office Building. In 1874 the E. W. Ober and P. Q. Bond Mercantile Company was established. This business was afterwards conducted under the firm name Ober, Bond & Company, Ober, Bond & B. L. Wilson, Ober, Hageman & Whittredge and Ober & Hageman. In 1887 the business became simply E. W. Ober, and that was both the name of an important mercantile enterprise and of a fine public-spirited citizen for many years. Mr. Ober had to retire from active business on account of ill health about two years before his death. For a time he conducted a grocery and dry goods store on the site of the Kress Building and also a clothing store at the location of the Hub.
His prosperity as a business man is only part of his record. In 1878-80 he served three years as a councilman. His service in that position came after Salina was made a second class city. He served as mayor in 1883-84. During his active connection with the city’s affairs the waterworks system was completed and all the railroads except the Union Pacific and the Salina Northern were built into the city. Mr. Ober was one of the founders of St. John’s Military School and for many years served on its board of trustees and used his influence for the locating of Kansas Wesleyan and the Salina Normal University at Salina. He was secretary and treasurer of St. Barnabas Hospital and did much to get that hospital established. With others he organized the old street car company at Salina. It is probable there was not a new business brought to town or public institution of benefit to the community that did not contain the name of Mr. Ober as the leading spirit.
The late Mr. Ober was an exceptionally companionable man. He loved to mingle with his fellows and participate in their joys and sorrows. This led to his becoming a member of many fraternal and benevo-organizations. Few men in Kansas Masonic circles were more widely known and loved. He was a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason, a Knight Templar of the York Rite, and filled many official positions in the fraternity. He was past master of John H. Brown Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons and for eight consecutive terms a member of the board of directors of the Masonic Building Association. For eight years he served as illustrious potentate of Isis Temple of the Mystic Shrine at Salina. From 1904 to 1911 inclusive he was a representative to the Imperial Council. His motto was “good will to men.” Some of his favorite quotations, which largely expressed his creed and practice, were the following:
“Do all the good you can To all the people you can In all the ways you can And as long as ever you can.”
“Did you ever think as the hearse goes by That it won’t be long ’til you and I Go riding out in the big plumed back And never remember coming back?”
“Did you ever think as you strive for gold That a dead man’s hand a dollar can’t hold?”
“You may pinch and tug, you may strive and save, You will lose it all when you reach the grave.”
Mr. Ober was one of the men who really lived Masonry as it is taught, and the impress for good he left on the order will never be forgotten.
In 1871, the year he first established as an independent merchant at Salina, Mr. Ober married Miss Asenath Matilda Jeffries. Mrs. Ober, who died January 28, 1907, was born at Newton, Pennsylvania, July 7, 1851. She came to Kansas with her parents in 1870, and her mother, Mrs. William Jeffries, operated the old Pacific Hotel at Salina, one of the first hotels of the city. Mr. and Mrs. Ober had ten children, six of whom survived their father.
Catherine Elizabeth, the oldest, was born February 5, 1872, and died August 1, 1872. Henry Buell was born February 25, 1873, is now a well known merchant at Lawrence and married Grace Hanback, daughter of Judge Lewis Hanback of Topeka. Ezra William, Jr., born October 3, 1874, now a merchant at Salina, married Virginia Isabell. Lillian Caroline, born July 5, 1876, is Mrs. Clarence Radeliffe of Lawrence. Nettie Norton was born May 5, 1878, and is now Mrs. Charles H. Bren of Salina. Margaret Jeffries was born November 9, 1879, died August 29, 1880. Ida May, born October 9, 1881, is Mrs. Harry Kurtz, of Pocatello, Idaho. Amy Matilda, born April 17, 1883, died May 21, 1893. Robert Kimberly, born March 25, 1885, died July 22, 1885. Marie Thelma born January 4, 1894, is Mrs. Neil Keye, of Idaho Falls, Idaho.