Jewels In Our Community: David & Julia Gardner

Saturday: Downtown Bryan Film Festival to Showcase Work by Consol AVP Alumni
July 18, 2012
Denise Fries 50th Birthday Nonprofit Grant Recipients
July 19, 2012

The hundreds of nonprofit organizations that have successfully raised funds by having a raffle or auctioning off a beautiful piece of jewelry donated by David and Julia Gardner of David Gardner’s Jewelers owe a debt of gratitude to a Bible verse and a high school co-op program.

 “It was just serendipity,” says David of his inauspicious start in the jewelry business at the age of 16. It was the end of his junior year at A&M Consolidated High School, and as a co-op student, David needed a job. The Zales jewelry store in the old Manor East Mall had an opening; among his duties was taking jewelry brought into Zales for repair to local jeweler Carl Bussell. Within 18 months, David was a jewelry apprentice for Bussell.

Even then, David was sure his future didn’t include owning a jewelry store in College Station. He had graduated from Texas A&M with degree in marketing intent on pursuing Harvard’s MBA program when he got a call – the owner of a mom and pop jewelry store in Temple had died. Would David move to Temple and train the heirs to keep the business going? David and Julia packed up their young daughter and answered the call.

Photo by Marci Greenbaum, Specialties PhotographyThe Temple job led David to an artist in nearby Salado who was moving from oil abstract painting to working with silver in jewelry and metal artistry. “That’s where I first saw success as an artist,” David recalls of his decision to commit to jewelry designing as a career. The economy was booming in 1983 when the Gardners opened the first David Gardner Jewelers store in College Station, a situation that would change dramatically two years later after the banking and savings and loan industries went bust. They hung on during lean years until their hard work and the Nineties prosperity grew their business into a local market leader.

David and Julia both reference their faith as the guiding force in their lives. When David wants to reference a scripture during this interview at the store, he doesn’t have to wonder if he has a Bible at the store; he just has to find his Bible at the store. It’s well-thumbed, underlined and annotated in inky scrawls, and it looks right at home in David’s hand as he talks about how both their business and their philanthropy changed 10 years ago

The hundreds of nonprofit organizations that have successfully raised funds by having a raffle or auctioning off a beautiful piece of jewelry donated by David and Julia Gardner of David Gardner’s Jewelers owe a debt of gratitude to a Bible verse and a high school co-op program.

 “It was just serendipity,” says David of his inauspicious start in the jewelry business at the age of 16. It was the end of his junior year at A&M Consolidated High School, and as a co-op student, David needed a job. The Zales jewelry store in the old Manor East Mall had an opening; among his duties was taking jewelry brought into Zales for repair to local jeweler Carl Bussell. Within 18 months, David was a jewelry apprentice for Bussell.

Even then, David was sure his future didn’t include owning a jewelry store in College Station. He had graduated from Texas A&M with degree in marketing intent on pursuing Harvard’s MBA program when he got a call – the owner of a mom and pop jewelry store in Temple had died. Would David move to Temple and train the heirs to keep the business going? David and Julia packed up their young daughter and answered the call.

Photo by Marcie Greenbaum, Specialties Photography. Make-up artist: Jennifer Pocurull.The Temple job led David to an artist in nearby Salado who was moving from oil abstract painting to working with silver in jewelry and metal artistry. “That’s where I first saw success as an artist,” David recalls of his decision to commit to jewelry designing as a career. The economy was booming in 1983 when the Gardners opened the first David Gardner Jewelers store in College Station, a situation that would change dramatically two years later after the banking and savings and loan industries went bust. They hung on during lean years until their hard work and the Nineties prosperity grew their business into a local market leader.

David and Julia both reference their faith as the guiding force in their lives. When David wants to reference a scripture during this interview at the store, he doesn’t have to wonder if he has a Bible at the store; he just has to find his Bible at the store. It’s well-thumbed, underlined and annotated in inky scrawls, and it looks right at home in David’s hand as he talks about how both their business and their philanthropy changed 10 years ago.

“We were doing a lot [of giving], but it was very private,” David recalls, deeply supporting a few charities including Junior League, MSC OPAS, Young Life, Brazos Valley Food Bank and Twin City Mission. Then David and Julia found themselves at another crossroad of sorts. “We were always sure we would live in a big city,” says David. Their success in a competitive industry had opened the door to offers from other cities to move up, and out, of College Station. He thumbs through James to find the verse – James 1:11 – that spoke to him: “In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.”

“It was pride” calling, a need to prove they could make it in a bigger market, says David. Instead, the Gardners decided to sit tight and figure out ways to make a bigger impact in their hometown. That impact arrived in the form of their concept store, opened in 2005 and designed to provide a space that lends itself as well to hosting events to help groups raise money as it does to showcasing both custom and internationally known jewelry lines. Named one of America’s 10 Coolest Stores in 2008, the new store has played a key role in making David Gardner Jewelers synonymous with “charitable donation” in many people’s minds.

For their 25th business anniversary, the Gardner’s modeled The Big Give after Denise Fries and her Fries Financial Services 20th anniversary matching grant giveaway. The Gardner’s divided $25,000 in “seed money” among 15 local charities that ultimately grew the funds to more than $80,000.

It was around this time at his regular weekly men’s Bible study that a verse David had “read a thousand times before” grabbed his attention: “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:30)

“I thought, ‘Surely that doesn’t mean me.’” There was no Road to Damascus conversion, either. “I fought it; I argued,” he recalls with a chuckle, even going out and buying other versions of the Bible trying parse a different meaning or a loophole that would allowed him to say “no” occasionally when people asked for donations. “But who was I going to say ‘no’ to?” he asks rhetorically.

After many long discussions, David and Julia decided they wouldn’t say “no,” but they also decided that saying “yes” meant something different than just writing a check or handing over a beautiful bauble. “It’s a chance to share what we’ve learned,” says David, recounting how a high school student who originally asked for a modest monetary donation, after a little tutelage, parlayed a $280 watch into $1,000 and then used the money to purchase diapers for Hope Pregnancy. The students learned something about leveraging assets. From this and other experiences like it, David learned something about himself.

“I love it,” says David, of hearing the stories from groups who have taken a donation and turned it into something larger. In the same way David and Julia are frequent guest speakers at the Mays Business School, every donation from David Gardner Jewelers becomes an opportunity to share lessons about how to increase impact and multiply whatever gift you’ve been given.

“Giving is my gift,” explains David about how David Gardner Jewelers has chosen to combine business and philanthropy; it is a personal decision, not business advice to others. “Everyone has different gifts,” he says, underscoring his gratitude to Julia for her wholehearted partnership in their life, in the store, and in his giving in to his gift. “Our friends know our giving is our lake house; our trips to Europe.

“God has provided. It’s fun to me.” With a pause and a small smile, David notes that people often overlook which verse follows “give to everyone who asks.” He proffers his well-loved Bible in both hands so I can read Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.”