Gordon Dean Hartrick, the Official Great Granddaddy of Spare the Rock • 1915-2014

Apr 10


[Ed.: I’ve added the full obituary at the end of the post; click on “Read More” to see it.]

The kindest and most decent man I’ve ever known, my Granddaddy Gordon Hartrick, shown here with Ella (admiring his beehives around ten years ago), with Cogie Ann, his late-in-life love, and with my Grandmother Alma (on their honeymoon), died peacefully yesterday in his home in the Arkansas Ozarks.  We’re playing Elizabeth Mitchell’s version of “Down in the Valley” this week in his memory.

He was the most curious and smartest person in any room (those facts were not unrelated), he had a remarkable breadth and depth of interests and knowledge, and he was filled with joy regarding just about everything. He cared and loved deeply.

cogie ann

It is no coincidence that one of his last words was “joy,” spoken of his children — likely both his children and the broader category, including the many foster children and other children that he and my grandmother Alma cared for (something that resulted in the Klan burning a cross in their yard, as my grandmother had the humanity to bring a burnt black child to the clinic for treatment). He rejoiced in the delights of the world, of nature, of his friends, of his family.


There will be an obituary [after the jump] — and his life’s details were remarkable (CCC, riding the rails, forestry, beekeeping, and so much more) — but it all comes down, for me, to joy.  Joy in all things.

Every time I sign something with my middle name (Gordon) or fill out a form with Liam’s middle name (also Gordon) — and every time I fill out something with Ella’s middle name (Alma) — I am honored to be associated with him and my Grandmother, and hope we are worthy successors to their names and their lives.

Even at 98, it feels too early for him to be gone.

This obituary was written by various members of the family; parts, as you can see, were based on what I wrote.

Gordon Dean Hartrick

May 13, 1915 • April 9, 2014

The kindest and most decent of men, Gordon was the most curious and the smartest person in any room; he had a remarkable breadth and depth of interests and knowledge, and he was filled with joy for just about everything.  He cared and loved deeply.

Gordon was born 13 May 1915 in Stettler, Alberta, Canada, to Maver and Lila (Dean) Hartrick.  He grew up in Canada, but finished high school in East Detroit, Michigan, where Maver worked as a wholesale salesman of ladies’ veils.

When the market for veils dwindled, Maver got a job in Detroit, Michigan.  The family followed, and Gordon finished high school in East Detroit.

Maver was alcoholic, in an era when alcoholism was regarded as a character flaw, rather than as an illness.  He left the family about the same time the Depression took hold, leaving Lila with three young sons.  Gordon graduated from East Detroit High as salutatorian of a class of 250; there were no jobs, so Gordon rode the rails for two years looking for work.

Then Franklin Roosevelt started the Civilian Conservation Corps camps and they saved Gordon’s family. Gordon and his brother Howard both worked in the CCC, and the money they sent home enabled Lila to survive and finish raising Robert.

Gordon worked his way through the University of Michigan, finishing with a Master’s degree in forestry. In 1940 he married Alma Seely, who was also working her way through the University of Michigan as a zoology major.  Gordon took a job in far-off Ashley County, Arkansas, with The Crossett Company, the first southern logging company to hire professional foresters to implement perpetual sustainable harvest practices.

Over the years, Gordon was a church and community leader as well as a distinguished forester.

He was particularly proud of three successful projects:  He started the Tri-Ed School in Hamburg, for children with disabilities; daughter Betsy was among the first students.  He founded the Ashley County Sheltered Workshop, providing work opportunities for adults with disabilities.  And he raised the funds to purchase the 1918 David E. Watson home in Hamburg for the Ashley County Museum.

Gordon was president of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce when they got a shirt factory in the county.  The factory employed mostly wives of seasonal woods workers, and its presence substantially improved their standard of living.

He became a Freemason of the state of Arkansas when he and Alma retired to their beloved mountain in Stone County in the Ozarks.  This was not easy because he had trouble memorizing; he and Paul Drummond worked for a long time to manage the memory requirements for Masonry.  He was a member of Lindsey Lodge #292 of Timbo, and an honorary member of Wiley Cove #524 of Leslie.  He held every office in the Lodge, and was Historian for many years; he researched and presented Masonic history stories at every Lodge meeting.

Over the years, Gordon had a profound – if quiet – influence with many people.  For years, a ham showed up every Christmas, a gift from a man who Gordon had helped to quit drinking and repair his family relationships.  A local Ku Klux Klan leader quit because Mr. Gordon didn’t approve. A young people’s Sunday school class he taught produced two Methodist preachers and several community leaders.

He was a member of the state Soil Conservation Board, president of the Arkansas Society of American Foresters, honored by the Arkansas State Fair Board with Gordon Hartrick Day at the State Fair, and was Arkansas Rotarian Man of the Year in 1973.

Alma died in 1996.  Two years later, he was surprised to find that he had fallen in love with Cogie Ann. They celebrated 16 years of marriage a few weeks before his death.

Gordon was a saint of the church formal and informal.  He represented his local church, first Hamburg United Methodist Church, and later Leslie UMC, at Annual Conference, for more than fifty years.  He taught Sunday School from the time he was 16 until he was 96, with the exception of his time in the CCC and early on in their time in Arkansas.  He kept his Sunday school book and his Bible beside his chair and worked on his lesson off and on through the week.  His life was itself testimony to the goodness and love of God.  He preached occasionally in rural United Methodist churches; his sermons were carefully reasoned and written out on yellow lined paper.  The best sermon he ever preached was from the heart, preached in Leslie while Alma was dying of cancer.  His topic was “Are We Born to Die?” He concluded that we are not born to die, but are born to eternal life; and so it has come to be for him.

It is no coincidence that one of his last words was “joy,” spoken of his children – likely both his children and the broader category, including the many foster children that he and Alma cared for (something that resulted in the Klan burning a cross in their yard, after someone saw Alma helping the child welfare worker take a black child to a doctor in Pine Bluff).  He rejoiced in the delights of the world, of nature, of his friends, of his family.

He was predeceased by his parents; brothers Robert Arthur Hartrick and Howard Walter Hartrick; first wife Alma (Seely) Hartrick; son Frank Dean Hartrick and daughter Betsy Carolyn Hartrick.  He is survived by his wife Cogie Ann Hartrick, children Holly Hartrick Childs of Fayetteville, Susan (John) Welch of Leslie, Alice (Michael) McBee of Leslie, Heather Hartrick of Mountain View, Nancy Hartrick Stafford of Leslie, Fred (Shari) Hartrick of Dallas, Texas, Jeanie (Herbie) Stuart of Bastrop, Louisiana, Robin (Karen) Hartrick of Bastrop, and Joe Ann Collier of Hamburg; many grandchildren, great grandchildren, loving friends and relatives.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Leslie United Methodist Church, POB 389, Leslie AR 72645.


  1. Barbara (Hartrick) Simon /

    Thanks so much for writing this. Truly a remarkable life.

  2. Dortha Dunap /

    To Holly, Lisa, Bill, Mike

    I am so sorry. Your father/grandfather was an amazing man–now I understand better why all of you are so amazing. I pray for comfort for you, and joy in your memories. Dortha

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.