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Rancher, Western art backer Bill Gary dies

Bill Gary

Bill Gary

Long-time Prescott resident, rancher, developer and western art advocate Bill Gary died Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014.

He was born William Arthur Gary on Nov. 21,1924, in Dallas, Texas, and grew up there, even though he spent much of his time on the stock farms his family owned in Caddo Mills, Texas.

His daughter, Kathy McCraine, wrote an article about her father for Arizona National Pioneer Histories and said "ranching was in his blood. His seventh great grandfather, also named William Arthur Gary, registered one of the first cattle brands in Virginia in 1693.

His grandfather, William Archibald Gary, ranched in west Texas, and Roswell, N.M., as well as Caddo Mills.

Gary attended Texas A&M University but left midway to serve as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. He returned to earn a degree in animal husbandry in 1948.

In 1948, Gary married Marion Luken, whom he had met at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he was stationed and she was a Navy nurse.

McCraine paints a visual picture in her description of her family's move to Arizona in the story she wrote about her father.

"We must have looked like an old-time wagon train the summer of 1958, when my family moved from Texas to Arizona," McCraine wrote. "The old pickup had been loaded sky high with household belongings and hitched to a trailer with still more stuff, both covered by big tarps. Lumbering down the highway, they looked for all the world like two covered wagons. My mother, Marion, followed behind with my 7-year-old brother, Bill Jr., our cocker spaniel Skipper and me, age 9, at the time, in our turquoise 1956 Chevy station wagon.

Once in Arizona, Gary's dream of ranching in the West was on the horizon. The family first lived on a ranch they leased with an old frame house, a windmill in the front yard to pump water for the house and a Kohler plant to provide electricity, McCraine wrote.

"As it turned out, the Kohler plant never worked, so we spent the winter reading and studying by kerosene lanterns and the candles my mother taught us to make."

That spring, Gary bought a small ranch at Walnut Grove on the Hassayampa River and the family "struggled for six years to make ends meet on that ranch with 100 head of registered Herefords."

Another dream interrupted life in Arizona and ranching. This ambition was to start a college preparatory school based on the Marine Corps, which he had been forced to leave because of his arthritis. His loyalty, however, had never waned, and for a number of years he had traveled the country raising money for the Marine Military Academy. His hope was to build it in Prescott, but when an old Air Force navigation school in Harlingen, Texas, closed down, Gary accepted the offer to build the school there, and it opened in 1965.

Two years later, the Garys returned to Prescott. Gary began to develop land he had taken as partial payment on the Walnut Grove ranch and started building houses. In 1972, the Garys bought the Horner Mountain Ranch in Dugas, Ariz., and ran Hereford-Charolais cross commercial cattle, and they also bought an irrigated farm in Dewey to raise purebred Charolais bulls for the ranch.

In partnership with McCraine and her husband Swayze, the Garys bought a ranch in Wikieup, Ariz., then sold it to buy the 7 Up Ranch northwest of Prescott. Today, the McCraines operate the ranch as Campwood Cattle Company.

Gary's developments include residential subdivisions, a regional shopping center and an industrial park.

When Gary and his wife retired, he looked for other endeavors. As his daughter says, he was a "master at prying donations from people" for worthy causes. With his daughter's persuasion he became a member of the Phippen Museum, joined its Board of Trustees in 2007 and chaired its Facilities Committee.

He was the lightning force in raising $2.5 million to double the museum's size and was responsible for much of the landscaping work completed on museum grounds. In addition, he donated a Remington statue and renovated the front entrance in 2008, and he donated numerous artifacts and memorabilia to the museum, which resulted in the creation of the Bill and Marion Gary Western Heritage Gallery.

He helped create and present the museum's popular Ranch Day events, and he also created and trademarked the Arizona Rancher and Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2009.

Gary's love for the western culture and way of life and his commitment to his community have won accolades from people who knew him and worked with him.

Phippen Board of Trustees Member Patsy Chamberlain noted Gary's "unique vision, which encompassed the role of every man. Whether cowboy or community leader, Bill respected individual contributions and hard work."

Because of his background as a rancher in Yavapai County, Gary "lent an authentic viewpoint of the portrayal of western life through art," Chamberlain said, adding "his fundraising skills led the Phippen Museum through every aspect of the museum's expansion and continued sustaining support.

"Bill was the idea man." In his passion for fundraising, he was frugal and intended for every dollar to count, Chamberlain said. "Donors knew their money would be managed responsibly and put to good use. We were blessed to know him and inspired by the legacy he has left to us."

Said Kim Villalpando, the museum's executive director, "I consider myself very fortunate to get to know Bill Gary over the years. He was not only a leader in the community, but one whose wheels were constantly turning when it came to improving the Phippen Museum. And, improve it he definitely did. Without his tenacity and enthusiastic support, the Phippen would not exist as we know it today. ... I realize what a truly great man he was and that the impact he has made in our community will not soon be forgotten, nor should it."

Paul Walker, who now lives in New Mexico, was president of Yavapai College from 1984 until the early 1990s and recalls that Gary "wanted to do more" with the Yavapai College Foundation.

"He reached out and became a partner with me in developing the college foundation," Walker said. "He brought fine people on to the foundation board and set a pattern for raising money for the college. He and the foundation were instrumental in passing the bond in 1988 that would add the performance hall and many other facilities, including the Verde and Chino Valley."

Gary also raised private money - $1 million - to put extra enhancements in the performance hall, Walker said. "Bill got right behind

me and helped me with private funding. He was so generous and had a wonderful brain and a good heart.

"He was a man's man, good, solid and honorable."

Col. Glenn Hill, who is superintendent of the Marine Military Academy, knew Gary for 18 years. "We deeply mourn the loss of Capt. Gary," Hill said. Beyond founding the college preparatory school, he "provided inspiration for all of us. He truly loved this school and cared deeply for the cadets. His vision and inspiration in starting the school has resulted in thousands of young men who have not only received a quality education but have also developed into disciplined, morally strong, college-ready young men who are leaders."

Gary was preceded in death by his son, William A. Gary Jr., in the mid-1970s. He is survived by his wife, Marion, his daughter and son-in-law Kathy and Swayze McCrain, and a brother, Creighton (Betty Lou) Gary of Dallas, Texas.

Memorial services will be from 3 to 5 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 3, at the Susan N. Webb Community Room in Building 19-147 at Yavapai College.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Gary's memory to the Phippen Museum, 4701 Highway 89 North, Prescott AZ 86301, or the Marine Military Academy, 320 Iwo Jima Blvd., Harlingen, Texas, 78550.

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