Owner of last Picher, Oklahoma, business died

Gary Linderman

PICHER, Okla. — To people outside the ghost town of Picher, Gary Linderman was the pharmacist who refused to leave. 

Indeed, he was the "last man standing" as most of the residents left the one-time mining boomtown because of environmental contamination.

To his friends and co-workers, Linderman, who died Saturday at age 60, was the man who once pulled two $100 bills out of his wallet to give a woman who was behind on the payments for her water and power. He was the avid hunter who shot a 558-pound black bear in Minnesota — the state record for 1998. Its hide still hangs on the pharmacy wall.

He is also the man who helped raise the son of his longtime girlfriend, Cheryl Riley.

"He was my best buddy," said John Mozingo, of Chetopa, Kansas, who often went fishing or hunting with Linderman on Saturdays. "He was like family."

Linderman once worked at Kronis Pharmacy in Picher. The owners left as most of Picher's residents took federal buyouts because of environmental contamination caused by lead and zinc mining. Linderman stayed put. He became known as the "last man standing" or "Lights out Linderman."

"He said, 'I'll stay here till I draw my last breath,'" said Jimmie Bayliss, a former Picher resident who now lives in Commerce, Oklahoma.

"And that's what he did."

The pharmacy, Ole Miners Pharmacy, was open Wednesday as customers called or visited. The business is the only one still open in Picher.

"The good Lord took another good one," said customer Ed Waters.

Linderman was known for his generosity.

"There were people who would say how much do I owe you today?" said employee Carla Copeland. "He would say, 'I'm going to give you a present today.'"

People magazine named Linderman one of its "Heroes Among Us" in 2007.

Picher, which once had almost 20,000 residents, became a Superfund site in 1983. Area residents suffered high rates of ailments such as hypertension and respiratory infections.

Riley, Linderman's girlfriend, said he had complained of back pain recently.

Linderman spent much of the day Saturday, his day off, planting tomatoes, said Jimmie Ayres who worked for Linderman. He stopped shortly after 6 p.m. and went in the house for dinner.

"He just stepped in the kitchen and down he went," Ayres said. "He never did come back."

Linderman's funeral will be today at First Christian Church in Chetopa, Kansas, where he went to church every Sunday. Linderman was known for providing fish for a fish fry each summer at the church.

"Sometimes there would be more people for the fish fry than at services on Sunday morning," said pastor Terry Robison.

There will be organ music and singing. Jean Allen and Janice Wright will sing "Build my Mansion."

Monzingo, Linderman's fishing friend, is one of the pallbearers. So is Austin Riley, the man Linderman helped raise.

"He just adopted my family as his family," said Cheryl Riley. "He taught my son everything he knows about hunting and fishing."

Austin Riley said he shot his first deer with Linderman. He also learned how to snag spoonbills. Austin Riley said he still has messages on his phone from Linderman.

"Any time I had a question about life in general that was the guy I went to," Austin Riley said.

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