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Nick Huntington Gray

February 11, 1919 - May 24, 2019

U.S. Veteran

Service Date: June 1, 2019

A memorial service will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 1, at Grace Community Church. Private inurnment will take place in the historic Pioneer Gray Family plot at Cedar Cemetery. Contributions in Gray’s name would be welcomed by Hope West at 725 S Fourth Street, Montrose, CO, 81401 or the organization of each individual’s choice.

Nick Huntington Gray

2-11-1919 – 5-24-2019

 

Life-long resident and living legend of Montrose County, Nick Gray, passed away in his own home on Friday, May 24, following his final horseback ride at the age of 100.

Nick was born to Joe and Addie Hobson Gray at their home west of Olathe on February 11, 1919, the middle child of 11. He was very proud of his family heritage. District Judge John and Mary O’Driscoll Gray, who came here by covered wagon in the 1880s, were his grandparents.

Nick often remarked that his father believed if a child could walk, he could ride a horse, so he was on the back of a horse before he was two years old. Work, whether it was daylight or dark, was the name of the game in the Gray family. Nick received his formal education at country elementary schools Pea Green and Fairview, then attended high school at Olathe and Montrose high schools.

Nick’s first business start was moving houses. “I moved my first house when I was 14 years old with six horses and no permit,” Nick used to say. Then he wrangled wild horses in Wyoming, selling them for work in the cotton fields.

He started earth moving in 1939 with a borrowed D-4 Cat, the beginning of a long industrious career.

He joined the United States Army August 19, 1940, serving 40 months overseas fighting World War II. He was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese invaded, making him one of the elite Pearl Harbor survivors.

He fought in the battle of Guadalcanal as well as building roads and bridges, managing a crew of 25 natives. He contracted malaria, suffering its affects for more than 25 years. His rank was Master Sargent; his awards included the Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Medal with two battle stars, WWII Victory Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He was discharged in November 1943, as a true American hero.

Nick was proud to have served and in turn gave the Army credit for providing his education and experience to become an astute businessman.

Nick married Margaret McAferty on June 6, 1946. They had one son, Stephen, who gave Nick two granddaughters, Nicole (Nathan Lumsden) and Lezlee (Charles Cox). The Lumsdens have four children; Keith, Stephen, Sarah and Talitha. The Coxes have two, Caralea and Kendyl. Stephen Lumsden and his wife Amy of West Richland, Washington recently gave Nick a great-great granddaughter, Audra Lynn.

Although Nick and Margaret divorced, they remained friends and she continued to keep books for him until her death December 25, 1993. Their son Stephen died January 1, 2011.

Nick started the Nick Gray Construction Company in 1946. By 1965, he had 98 people under his employment and had several contracts including Colorado-Ute, Mountain Bell, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation.

He learned early on to put everything in writing and to keep good daily records of his many projects. He built over 3,000 miles of power line right-of-ways and roads throughout several states. He built the infrastructure for the Purgatory Ski Area near Durango, saying “I built the ski course, parking lot and the by-pass road around the ski area…I blasted 40,000 yards of rock, all in 129 days.”

Nick bought an airplane and learned to fly in order to help him and his crew get to and from work sites a lot faster. He was building his ranching empire during the same time he was running his construction company. He bought the Cedar Creek Ranch east of Montrose in 1951 and the Cimarron Ranch in 1974, always running large herds of cattle as well as raising registered horses.

He also bought grazing permits for the Alpine, Silver Jack and Big Cimarron areas, and was acknowledged for his good stewardship of the land.

Nick formed Rangeland Users Association; was president of Cimarron Soil Conservation for several years; was 1986 “Rancher of the Year” from the Shavano Soil Conservation District; was awarded the 2005 Ag Appreciation Award; was awarded “Lifetime Membership to Uncompahgre Cattlemen Association; 2001 Outstanding Weed Cooperator of the year; member of Elks Lodge BPOE #1053; Member of VFW in Nucla; captain of Montrose polo team for several years during the 1960s when they took third in the nation.

Nick was also on the board of directors for the Colorado Boys Ranch in LaJunta, Colorado for 13 years, attending meetings once a month. Nick considered his role in procuring barracks for 27 boys who were sleeping in the basement of a church as one of his greatest life accomplishments. In 1965, he flew to the ranch on Christmas Day to find that most of the boys had places to go, except for 13 who were left behind.

Nick took them to the airport and made sure every boy had an airplane ride as a special Christmas gift—a moment never to be forgotten by those young men.

On March 19, 2019, Nick was presented the Congressional Record from the state House of Representatives by Senator Scott Tipton, thanking Gray for his lifetime of service throughout the state. The record has become a part of the state archives.

Among all these accomplishments and others too numerous to list, Nick’s family remembers that he did take time to water ski on Sweitzer Lake a few times.

Nick was well-known for telling his life stories and no matter how many times he repeated them, they were all basically the same—always entertaining and benefiting the listener.

He was generous in giving advice, especially “Work hard and save your money.” Once when asked the secret to his long life, Nick replied, “not smoking and never give up for nothing! I ride my horses every day and go to the mountains to work. I also work my dozers and other equipment around my ranch.”

Thanks to Nick’s right-hand man, Eddie McCracken, who has worked for him for 44 years, he was able to continue running his ranching empire. He was able to remain in his own home with the help and dedication of his long-time friend and caregiver, Loretta Bond.

Nick is survived by his two granddaughters and their families, six great grandchildren and one great, great granddaughter, plus numerous nieces and nephews.

In addition to parents, he was preceded in death by his former wife Margaret; son Stephen; brothers John, Joseph, Alford, Kenneth, Lester, Benjamin and Eugene; and sisters Dorothy, Aileen and Marguerite.

A memorial service will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 1, at Grace Community Church. Private inurnment will take place in the historic Pioneer Gray Family plot at Cedar Cemetery. Contributions in Gray’s name would be welcomed by Hope West at 725 S Fourth Street, Montrose, CO, 81401 or the organization of each individual’s choice.

Crippin Funeral Home and Crematory are in charge of all arrangements.