At the heart of Hancock County is one thing: the community. The people who make up the community are unique and diverse in interests, backgrounds, and stories. Over the next few months we will be highlighting members of the community that you may see behind a shop counter, at an event, or in the grocery store and their stories. This month we will be featuring Gene and Jane Geckle, the owners of Geckle Orchard.
Geckle Orchard, located near Alvada, is a location that many flock to in the Fall to purchase bushels of their favorite apples, fresh cider, and other apple treats. But what many may not know is that Gene and Jane Geckle, the owners of Geckle Orchard, did not set out in life to own an Orchard. Geckle Orchard was born out of what Gene calls “a hobby gone bad.” Roughly forty years ago he decided to plant a few trees, including a couple apple trees on his land. He added a few more apple trees to that couple, which grew to a few dozen, which then turned into hundreds and now sits at about 3,000 apple trees and a full fledged orchard operation. Gene, as a former farm boy, always dreamed of maintaining a small hobby orchard, especially after his and Jean’s retirement from their careers as school counselors, but he had never expected it to become a second career.
At first, Gene and Jane began selling apples that they hand-washed in large barrels and piled into paper grocery sacks. Cider was originally pressed using the family’s apples in Carey at an old wooden press and apple and cider were sold out of a garage. Through the years Gene studied the art of apple growing by attending workshops, taking classes, and learning from “the old-timers”. Somewhere in between planting those first few trees to building an apple barn 20 years ago with professional wash units and a cold room, Gene had fully entered the world of professional apple growers. Soon after Gene built the apple barn, he added a high-end stainless steel continuous roller belt cider press and a sales area. Since then, Gene and Jane haven’t slowed down; they began offering Open House weekends in the fall, inviting the public to their orchard to learn about the process, tour the cider press, go on a wagon ride to see Gene’s apple trees, and more.
Gene and Jane have to wear several hats each to keep the orchard running. Gene does all of the back-end work with the help of part-time employees. They care for all the trees, pick apples, wash and sort apples, make and jug cider, prepare homemade vinegar, and maintain all the equipment, as well as the property. Jane is the smiling face you see greeting you when you walk into the sales area. In addition to managing the sales area and keeping records, she assists with jugging cider and vinegar and oversees the Open Houses. As soon as you meet Gene and Jane you can tell they are passionate about what they do. They both revel in the feeling of awe that comes to them when they stand in the orchard at full bloom, taking in the aromas of the blossoms and watching the bees pollinating the crop. They find great satisfaction in producing a quality crop that keep consumers coming back each year. As one of the only fruit producers in the area they enjoy seeing customers return year after year for their fresh, local produce.
Gene and Jane, while busy with the orchard, can also be seen out and about in the community. They enjoy taking part in the numerous events in the area, such as the Flag City BalloonFest and the Riverside Concert Series that take place in the summer. They also enjoy attending all of the city parades, and taking advantage of the extensive programming at the parks and Hancock Historical Museum. They also frequent as many antique auto shows and performances at the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts as possible. But when asked to choose their favorite, it is the Fourth of July activities that top their list. Gene and Jane also enjoy staying involved in their church, St. Michael the Archangel, and are involved with the annual Thanksgiving Share the Harvest Campaign, their involvement in church, as well as other charities in the county, is their favorite thing to do in their free time.
In addition to contributing to the county and running the orchard, they enjoy gardening (of course!), spending time with their family and dogs (who demand a lot of their time!), and traveling. Gene is a member of the Kings of Columbus and Hancock County Veterans Memorial Squad and Jane is a member of the Leo Coucilettes and enjoys reading and amateur cake decorating, which taps into her creative side. Both are retired school counselors and members of the Hancock County Retired Teachers Association. What strikes you the most when you meet Gene and Jane is how much they love the community, which is even more evident with their anecdotes of the history of the area, including about Biglick Township, where the orchard is located. They shared that at one time there was a large “big lick” salt lick in the township which was beneficial for wildlife but also essential for the early settlers…and how the township received its name. And as former school counselors Gene and Jane appreciate the opportunity they have to educate the community about local agriculture, specifically apple and cider production. They say it is a privilege to work with the people of Hancock County and welcome them as part of their apple family.
You can find Gene and Jane at their orchard, located at 8729 Township Road 258 in Alvada. The orchard is open Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sundays, Noon – 5 p.m. until the orchard closes for the season, normally in late November.
Don’t miss out on other community members we have highlighted through the community spotlight series, like Bill Wolf, Jr. of Wolfie’s Nuts, Erika Dietsch-Brokamp of Dietsch Brother’s Fine Chocolates and Ice Cream, Phil Clinger, a balloon pilot of BalloonFest, and Steve Treece, CEO of Findlay Brewing Company! Enjoy Fall to its fullest by getting spooked this Halloween, enjoying the season with your family, and checking items off your Fall and Winter Bucket List. You also don’t want to miss any of the events taking place in Hancock County, check out our event calendar to learn more.