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
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
‘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.