Bat­tered town’s ‘last man’ dies

GARY L INDERMAN, 1954 - 2015 ‘If any­body wanted to know or talk about Picher we would say, “Go see Gary.” ’ — Sherry Mills, friend of Gary Lin­der­man

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Steve Mar­ble steve.mar­ble@la­ Times staff writer Abby Sewell and the As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Nei­ther toxic lead nor a bru­tal tor­nado could drive Gary Lin­der­man from Picher, Okla. He was 60.

When a tor­nado tore through tiny Picher, Okla., in 2008, lev­el­ing homes, f lip­ping cars and destroying the last place in town to buy gaso­line, there was lit­tle rea­son for folks to stick around.

The city, which once had a pop­u­la­tion of 20,000 when the zinc and lead mines were in full swing, had been emp­ty­ing out for years, an ex­o­dus that ac­cel­er­ated when it was de­clared a Su­per­fund site.

But Gary Lin­der­man had no in­ten­tion of leav­ing, even as his friends, neigh­bors and cus­tomers gave up on Picher.

Lin­der­man, the owner and pro­pri­etor of the Ole Min­ers Phar­macy, came to be known as “the last man stand­ing” or “Lights Out Lin­der­man” for his pledge to stay, or at least turn off the lights if he were to leave town.

Lin­der­man died Satur­day at his home due to a sud­den ill­ness, ac­cord­ing to the Thomas Fu­neral Home in nearby Welch. He was 60.

For years, cus­tomers from miles away con­tin­ued to visit the phar­macy in the once-boom­ing lead-- and zinc-min­ing town in the north­east­ern cor­ner of Ok­la­homa, about 20 miles south­west of Jo­plin, Mo.

At its peak in 1926 — eight years af­ter it was founded — Picher was at the cen­ter of the Tri-State Min­ing Dis­trict, a ru­ral area of Ok­la­homa, Kansas and Mis­souri that was the lead and zinc cap­i­tal of the world. Once in­hab­ited by Qua­paw In­di­ans, the area was largely agri­cul­tural, with fields of hay and cat­tle graz­ing on the prairie be­fore the min­ers be­gan tear­ing into the earth in the early 1900s.

The town’s fate changed rad­i­cally when the mines closed, and most res­i­dents left af­ter the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency de­clared Picher a fed­eral Su­per­fund site in the 1980s. By the mid-1990s, stud­ies showed that about a third of the chil­dren in the area had el­e­vated lev­els of lead in their blood, which can cause cog­ni­tive is­sues.

As the pop­u­la­tion of Picher thinned out, it came to re­sem­ble a ghost town in a moon­scape of dull white min­ing waste known as “chat piles.”

The First Bap­tist Church was bull­dozed, houses sat empty, and even the wa­ter tower dec­o­rated with the high school mas­cot was knocked down. The house where lo­cal leg­end Mickey Man­tle was mar­ried was one of the few struc­tures marked for preser­va­tion.

The 2008 tor­nado dev­as­tated those who re­mained. The town ceased mu­nic­i­pal op­er­a­tions in 2009.

Born on Sept. 8, 1954, Lin­der­man moved to Picher and seemed to fall in love with the town and its res­i­dents, telling friends that he re­mained hope­ful it would make a come­back. He be­came an unof­fi­cial spokesman of sorts for the city, ap­pear­ing in lo­cal and na­tional me­dia.

“He loved to be in­ter­viewed,” friend Sherry Mills said. “We used to tease him that if any­body wanted to know or talk about Picher we would say, ‘Go see Gary,’ be­cause he loved to talk about Picher.”

Lin­der­man and his staff of three of­ten de­liv­ered med­i­ca­tions to cus­tomers in ru­ral ar­eas of nearby Arkansas, Kansas and Mis­souri.

Dr. Richard Chubb, a physi­cian in Bax­ter Springs just across the Kansas bor­der, met Lin­der­man many years ago, and the men be­came fish­ing bud­dies.

“If some­body couldn’t af­ford the drugs the doc­tor or­dered, he’d give them free sam­ples, or if he didn’t have sam­ples he’d give them free drugs. He was as good a per­son as you’ll ever find,” Chubb said.

Long­time friend and for­mer boss Ralph Wil­burn hired Lin­der­man for his first job out of col­lege in 1977. He last spoke to Lin­der­man on Fri­day, and said his friend never smoked and was in good phys­i­cal shape.

“I said, ‘Gary when are you go­ing to re­tire?’ ” Wil­burn said. “He said, ‘Never, I love my peo­ple here.’ ”

‘If any­body wanted to know or talk about Picher we would say, “Go see Gary.” ’ — Sherry Mills, friend of Gary Lin­der­man

Nathan Papes For The Times

‘LIGHTS OUT LIN­DER­MAN’ Gary Lin­der­man, who op­er­ated Ole Min­ers Phar­macy, stayed be­hind while oth­ers left Picher, Okla., de­clared a Su­per­fund site be­cause of its lead and zinc mines and dev­as­tated by a tor­nado.

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