By Jody Gray
Grant Wendell Gray, 93, former long-time resident of Ute Park, New Mexico, passed away Wednesday (Nov. 4) at Kindred Wind River nursing home in Riverton, Wyoming. His health had declined after breaking a hip in late August and suffering a bout of pneumonia in September.
Grant Gray was born on a dairy farm near Rockbridge, Wisconsin on Sept. 29, 1922. He was the oldest of five children (three boys and two girls) born to Roy Archie Gray and Daisy Veva (McCann) Gray. In the late 1920s, the family left Wisconsin in search of a warmer climate to bolster Roy Gray’s health. They moved first to Oklahoma and then to New Mexico, where Roy worked odd jobs in many small rural farming communities. (In retrospect, moving to Oklahoma just before the Dust Bowl wasn’t the most prescient choice, but none of us truly knows the future.) The family settled more permanently in Ute Park, New Mexico in 1934, where Roy was employed carrying railroad ties at the end of the railroad line.
Growing up in Ute Park was the source of many memories of a full but hard life. The family cabin had no electricity or running water (unless you count the nearby Cimarron River). The community had no high school. When Grant finished 8th grade at age 13 and started high school in Cimarron, 12 miles away. There was no school bus, so his parents arranged for him to stay in a room in a parsonage garage in Cimarron that had a bed and stove and an outside toilet. He could usually get a ride home with the mailman Saturday mornings, then return to Cimarron on Sunday when his parents went to church. The following year, his sister was ready for high school, so Grant, at almost 14 years old, began driving to school each day with his sister and three other children he picked up along the way. Grant graduated from Cimarron High School in 1939 at age 16.
After high school, Grant ran his own service station for a time, and later worked stringing telegraph wire in New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma. In 1942, he joined the Navy and served until 1945, first on the Alaskan island of Attu, and then on a troop transport ship in the Pacific. His ship carried troops to some famous locations, such as Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Guam, Midway, and Eniwetok.
After the war, Grant attended the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now New Mexico State University) under the GI Bill. He always valued education and said that the GI Bill changed his life. He graduated in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. It was at A & M that he met and fell in love with his first wife, Phyllis Lane, originally from Iowa. She already had her bachelor’s degree and was working for the college, running a nursery school associated with the Home Economics department. The couple met on Labor Day weekend, and after a whirlwind romance they were married on homecoming weekend in early November of the same year, 1947. After graduation, Grant pursued a solid engineering career in the nuclear weapons industry in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at ACF Industries and Kirtland Air Force Base. The couple raised three daughters, who have all earned college degrees, had successful careers, and enjoy happy marriages.
In her 40s, Phyllis became ill with multiple sclerosis. Before her death in 1982, Grant became adept at cleaning and making minor repairs to wheelchairs, and voluntarily performed that service for other MS patients.
Grant had always hoped to return to Ute Park in retirement. As luck would have it, he met a woman who was familiar with Ute Park and liked the area. Grant and Ruth Stanford married and moved to Ute Park in 1983.
A few years ago, life in the tiny village of Ute Park was getting a bit challenging for someone in his 80s, so the couple moved to Lander, Wyoming, where Ruth’s two sons lived.
Grant enjoyed square dancing, reading, and working crossword puzzles. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed camping, hunting, and trout fishing. He enjoyed planting and grafting fruit trees, and he loved making his own wine from grapes, plums, or any other fruit he could find. Grant had a deep bass voice and loved singing in church choirs and barbershop quartets and choruses. He was a long-time member of the Methodist church in Cimarron, New Mexico.
Grant was interested in investing and spent many hours researching stocks and keeping track of personal finances in detailed penciled ledgers in his own consistent but definitely non-standard format. He loved telling stories of the old days in Ute Park in the ’30’s and ’40’s, such as pointing out the exact former locations of the unpaved highway and railroad tracks and relating adventures about driving fuel trucks on the old primitive mountain roads to Baldy Town and Red River.
Grant was preceded in death by his parents, sister Betty Reilman, brother Robert Gray, and first wife Phyllis Gray. He is survived by his wife Ruth Gray of 31 years; sister Myrtie Dora Waterfield; brother Roy Augustus (Gus) Gray; daughters Judy Johnson and her husband Mike Johnson, Jody Gray and her husband Donn Hubler, and Glynda Wilson and her husband Jim Wilson; stepsons Jeffrey Stanford and Brian Stanford; grandchildren Matthew Johnson, Jaclynn Johnson Pratt, and William Stanford Knudsen; and many nieces and nephews.
Arrangements are being handled by Hudson’s Funeral Home in Lander, Wyoming.
“Grant Gray’s life at ‘the end of the railway’” – Sangre de Cristo Chronicle