ST. PETERSBURG — Gabe Kober left his waterfront home on Cordova Boulevard at 6 a.m. to start his day protecting the neighborhood. The tall man with short gray hair and an upright posture walked the well-kept street that curves between Eden Isle and Snell Isle Boulevard, ready to perform dozens of small acts that made up his routine.
He pulled trash containers to the curb on garbage day. He delivered newspapers from driveways to the front door.
He dug into his pockets for doggie treats. He pulled weeds in neighbors' yards and even planted flowers.
Mr. Kober also walked the neighborhood at 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. At those times, his mission was more protective. If he saw people he didn't recognize sitting in their cars, he asked if he could help them.
On the nighttime walks he sometimes carried a 2-foot-long club, with nails protruding from the meaty end on each side.
"If somebody tried to take advantage of a senior, he would be able to protect himself," said Bill Kober, Mr. Kober's son.
He never had to use it. Some neighbors think his very presence kept would-be prowlers away. He stayed on top of every suspicious vehicle and pulled every weed he saw, no matter whose yard it was in.
He even edged the lawns of neighboring houses, just because he thought that is how neighbors ought to behave.
Mr. Kober, also known as the "mayor of Cordova Boulevard," died Thursday while visiting his son's family in Washington, N.J. He was 94.
"He wanted the neighborhood to look nice," said Bill Kober, 71. "If he saw weeds growing in the crack of the sidewalk, he'd take them out."
The activity that kept the neighborhood clean also may have kept Mr. Kober alive. He was on his sixth pacemaker since 1975, when he retired to St. Petersburg. His pacemakers were designed to kick in only after his pulse dropped below 70. Because keeping going was his nature, that wasn't very often.
"Nobody had to touch their garbage cans for years," said Jerry Goff, a neighbor of 12 years. "We got used to that."
When neighbors went out of town, Mr. Kober checked on their houses, which was a little harder to get used to.
"He watched everybody's stuff, almost to a fault," said Goff, 52. A couple of times, Goff said he had returned early from a weekend trip and was startled to see a man peering through the glass.
Goff said he was frightened before he realized, "It's … Gabe, checking your doors."
Mr. Kober was born in Phillipsburg, N.J., in 1918, in a farming family. He married Madeline Simon at 19, when he was working at a Sunoco station. Two years later, Sun Oil lent him the money for his own station outside Phillipsburg.
Mr. Kober fought in the Army during World War II in the Pacific, where he was wounded. He left the service as a master sergeant and returned to his wife and two sons.
The entire family worked. Sons Bill and Gabriel pitched in often seven days a week while Madeline Kober ran a luncheonette next to the gas station. Some days, the boys washed 50 cars by hand.
In the meantime, Mr. Kober served as a volunteer fire chief and in the Civil Defense Corps.
Mr. Kober retired to St. Petersburg in 1975, around the time he got his first pacemaker. He served in a neighborhood watch program in association with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and was active in Shriners International.
The last couple of years, the "mayor" has lacked the strength to make his rounds through the neighborhood. But passers-by still saw him in his lawn chair beneath an open garage door, waving at them and calling out a friendly hello.
Said longtime neighbor Patti Bridges: "It's hard to imagine a neighbor like that in today's world."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.