Michael Gardner- AKA “Miss Pumpkin”
Michael grew up in Upper Bucks County, Pa. in Tinicum Township on a farm. His family was civic minded and very active in the community, believing strongly in helping others.
When Michael was in school he would often come to New Hope in the early 1980s, finally moving here in the late 80s when he came out. He said he decided to move to New Hope after meeting some of the most wonderful people that took him under their wings. Michael said New Hope “looked like a lot of fun.”
He grew up in the restaurant business and made a living in New Hope waiting tables and bartending. He has since been working at John & Peter’s for the last 8 years. Michael said John & Peter’s is still the “coolest” bar in town. He said it’s like being in someone’s living room and everyone mixes together.
When he began doing drag, he became known as Miss Pumpkin and has been an icon in New Hope for the last 30 years. Michael said friends he made working at the Raven have become lifelong friends, along with those he met doing his drag shows at the Cartwheel on Monday nights.
Perhaps he is best known for his tireless charity work, something he said he has always wanted to do. He has raised an immeasurable amount of money, somewhere around $750,000 for local charities including FACT and Lifeties.
His involvement with FACT (Fighting AIDS Continuously Together) began when a friend asked him to help out at the Snow Ball to benefit the Lehigh Valley FACT chapter in Allentown, Pa. He said he has known and lost many a friend to AIDS and saw the need for FACT in Bucks County. Michael hosts the FACT bingos which have become legendary.
Not only does he volunteer for FACT, but also for Lifeties. Lifeties is an organization in Trenton, NJ which runs Triad House, the only home in New Jersey for abused and neglected LGBT youth.
If someone is in need, Michael will do a benefit to raise money. He loves to cook and will show up on your doorstep with a freshly made pot of soup. He said it’s the energy he gets from volunteering that is his favorite part.
After living in New Hope for so long, he says he has “been blessed.” Michael fondly remembered the time the Raven staff went out tubing. He said they never checked the weather and got stuck in a terrible storm on one of the islands in the Delaware River.
He recalled the first Pride Parade in New Hope and said people were screaming his name and he felt the love and energy. He said even children were screaming and he knew he had made a difference.
Perhaps this spring of 2018 was the defining moment for Michael. His home flooded during a bad rain storm and he had to move out. The whole town came together raising money and helping him move. He said it reminded him of how lucky he is to live here and how nowhere else could compare with New Hope.
Michael said he lives by the creed of knowing he has made a difference and his favorite quote hangs on a plaque in his house by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”