When family and friends gather Wednesday to celebrate the life of Diane Gamble, the children may outnumber the adults.
For nearly 25 years, Diane and her husband, retired District Judge Dave Gamble, have operated City of Refuge, in the Gardnerville Pine Nuts, offering a home for pregnant women while awaiting the births of their children.
At City of Refuge, she handled multiple tasks: House mother, teacher, fund-raiser, role model, confidante and honorary godmother to the more than 100 babies born since 1991.
Diane was “the candy lady” to dozens of children at Grace Community Church, where the Gambles worshiped and took active roles in ministry.
She died Monday at her home in Gardnerville.
Her memorial service is 1 p.m., Wednesday, at Grace Community Church, and guests are encouraged to bring children.
“We’re trying to make her memorial as fun and colorful as she was,” Dave Gamble said Wednesday.
Jennifer Arnold plans to attend with her 15-year-old son, Harrison, who was born at City of Refuge in 1999.
Arnold, now 33, was 18, pregnant, and scared when she arrived at City of Refuge in September 1998.
“I came to Refuge from a shelter in Northern California. From the moment I met her (Diane) she was amazing. She was like my mother,” Arnold said in a telephone interview Wednesday from her home in Marysville, Calif.
“My son’s father and I broke up after a pretty volatile relationship. The Gambles brought me out to their home in the middle of the Pine Nuts and it was kind of scary. But the moment you walked through the door, it wasn’t scary any more,” Arnold said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have survived, my son wouldn’t be here, if it weren’t for Dave and Diane.”
Over the years, the Arnold and her family have been frequent visitors to City of Refuge, and Jennifer kept in touch with mothers she met there.
“I was standing in line at the post office, checking Facebook, when I found out Diane had died. There just aren’t enough words to express how I feel,” she said.
As news of Diane Gamble’s death spread, grief-stricken friends shared their thoughts on a blog offered by Grace Community Church.
Friends remembered “Diny” as warm and welcoming, a woman who combined her deep faith with an irresistible sense of humor.
“I was blessed by Diane’s transparency, her childlike faith, and how she wasn’t pretentious. I will miss seeing the long line of children waiting for treats from her at church,” wrote a friend.
The children mourned for “the candy lady.”
“They cried when they heard she went to heaven but one of ours said, ‘It’s kind of neat though because she went to sleep and then when she woke up she was in heaven.’ In a prayer later, one of our little ones prayed, ‘I hope that she is having a good time with God in heaven.’
“I didn’t know Diane for very long, but I always appreciated her candor and wit,” said a friend. “She was able to be direct but caring and there was zero pretense about her. Her legacy of counseling and loving the lost are such a wonderful testimony to our Savior. I will miss her smile and watching the children swarm to her seat on Sundays.”
At Dave Gamble’s retirement party in December 2012, Diane’s eyes shone with tears as she reflected on the hundreds of people who turned out to honor her husband of nearly three decades.
“It makes me almost want to cry this many people would think so much of Dave.” she said. “I got to grow up with my best friend. Now we are planning more best-friend things to do.”