Richard Gessner lived in Massillon for more than 50 years with his wife, Susan.
MASSILLON Richard Gessner, a beloved father, grandfather and local business pioneer, is being remembered by family and friends as innovative, charitable and loving of his hometown.
The longtime city resident and founder of Massillon Cable TV died Wednesday in his northeast Massillon home. He was 90.
“He was an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur,” said Mel Herncane, a friend of Gessner’s and early customer of the cable company. “When he started the business, people were like, ‘We’re not going to pay for TV service.’ What it has grown into is amazing.”
Gessner, who grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from Bucknell University in 1950, landed his first cable television gig in 1960, obtaining franchises in upstate New York. He started Massillon Cable — now MCTV — with his wife, Susan, in 1965.
According to his son, Robert Gessner, a family death in 1963 in Massillon prompted his father to relocate the family to the city and start the new cable franchise, which took about a year and a half to get through Massillon City Council.
“He was very impetuous,” he said. “For the first dozen years, it grew by about 1,000 customers a year.”
Herncane, a former City Council president but not a member when the cable company started, said Gessner was extremely focused and steadily built the enterprise.
“Once City Council gave him the OK, they were off and running,” Herncane said.
Robert Gessner, who today operates MCTV, said his father was ambitious and worked to grow Massillon Cable to serve customers in Jackson and Perry townships. In 1978, the senior Gessner purchased Clear Picture cable company in Wooster, which added 4,000 customers right away.
“He was always and independent minded person, and didn’t see himself working for others,” Robert Gessner said. “He wanted to be the boss.”
Richard Gessner was also a founder of the Ohio Cable Television Association and had served as chairman of the Community Antenna Television Association. He had not been active with MCTV for about 10 years, according to Robert Gessner, who said his father never officially retired.
“We sought his counsel from time to time (over the years),” he added.
Today, about 50,000 homes and businesses in Stark, Wayne, Summit, Holmes and Tuscarawas counties receive high-speed internet, digital TV, phone and other services via MCTV.
Hobbies of Richard Gessner included art — he was an avid painter and wood carver — and inventing, his son said. In the early years of his cable company, made his own underground boring equipment to better run cable lines under driveways and parking lots.
“He just did it for himself and to improve the business,” Robert Gessner said. “It was never about notoriety.”
Work and hobbies were not the sole passion of Richard Gessner, noted Herncane, who recalled his friend’s giving nature.
“Dick was extremely charitable to the United Way and Boys and Girls Club for many years,” Herncane said.
Since moving to Massillon more than five decades ago, Richard Gessner became smitten with the area.
“He loved the town and people,” said Robert Gessner “Dad called this place home.”
The service for Richard Gessner is set for 1 p.m. Monday at St. John’s United Church of Christ, 101 Tremont Ave. SE. Visitors are welcome to meet with family members from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.