By Rusty Fleming
One recurring theme for conversation around Fleming’s Outpost on Grays Hollow over the past some 39 years has always been the unique people we have encountered around this pond we call Grand Lake.
The fact this melting pot is made up of a wide range of personalities, who occupy various different positions on the economic ladder of success, only means the lessons we’ve learned along the way have come from many perspectives.
But one’s worth isn’t always merely an offshoot of the old rich guy’s cliché about whoever has the most toys when he dies is declared the winner.
Riches can be accumulated in a lot of different ways and the people we become close to and truly recognize as our friends are truly a treasure.
I truly lost, as did countless other Grand Lakers, a genuine treasure on Monday morning (Sept 21) when Jerry Hopper lost his battle to the most deadly of brain cancers.
The death of this local builder, designer & self-educated architect, framer, retailer, remodeler, chicken fighter, golfer, tomato farmer and international traveler leaves me pondering…Who ya’ gonna call for those unique problems in the world which no one else would give you the time of day to talk about?
Gone is a gem when it came to solving problems, both large and small, and even a better pal and human being.
Jerry’s friends, who he had accumulated over the years and seemed to value as much as any draw associated with a big construction job, are made up of family, plumbers, electricians, a former body shop owner turned dirt salesman, a cabinet maker, an international entrepreneur with business operations from North Texas to China and many more including this has-been publisher.
If a person can be counted as being part of Jerry’s unique circle of friends, which was never defined by any social or economic boundaries, Monday’s news was like a gut punch.
Jerry’s battle with cancer was more intense and concentrated than any challenge he ever encountered in constructing some of the most luxurious homes on Grand Lake for a who’s who list of Grand Lakers.
He could be called the Jim Valvano of Grand Lake as he never, never gave up.
He explored every avenue and possibility for defeating cancer with that truly inquisitive mind and something which served him exceeding well throughout his life; determination that is a born trait and not learned in a class room or with on-the-job training.
He was and will remain a unique story, just as American as Apple Pie.
Jerry’s roots to Grand Lake can be traced back to his grandparents bait shop in Langley, HI’s Bait Shop, which was located on Hwy. 28, catty-cornered from Frosty & Edna’s historic café.
They sold bait from the first floor and the second floor served as the family residence.
His immediate family resided in Tulsa, but Jerry and his brother Tom, would spend the summers on Grand Lake helping out around the bait shop and becoming infected with Grand lake fever.
We will forever wonder what possessed Jerry’s Mom, Pat, to name her two boys Tom & Jerry, but I digress.
The fact that Jerry has built homes for people like Pack St. Clair of Cobalt Boats, Bank of Oklahoma’s Stan Lybarger, former Phillips big wig Wayne Anderson and well known Tulsa attorney John Glad is a testimony to his well respected talent.
You see, high school dropouts aren’t usually found overseeing multi-million dollar construction projects of any kind.
The interesting roads which lead this dropout from manual labor to where his career took him are truly unique.
From building decks around eight foot hot tubs with his life-long pal Jim Ryan to multi-million dollar homes for Grand Lakers, it’s truly a story of self-education with a Billy Goat trying to butt a whole in that dam mentality.
Jerry was blessed with raw intelligence, an inquisitive mind and a commitment to stay with whatever he was trying to master until he was pretty much better at it than anybody else.
When I met him in 1982, it was decks around hot tubs, but he had framing and other carpentry skills on his resume even back them.
From there it was partnering up with former Langley mayor and builder Dave Wall and some Vinita investors for the development of Pelican Point.
People like the Heffner’s from Oklahoma City and Dick & Sally Lane were on the client list.
With the oil boom, the money was rolling and Jerry was a little wilder and a hell of a lot younger in those days.
The legendary Cove Club, which most recently was home to Pensacola Pizza and is now closed, was a daily gathering spot for the Grand Lake construction crowd, including Dave and Jerry’s crew from the Pelican Point project…and a distinguished crew it was.
Guys like the late John Akin, Jim Ryan, the Jeffers brothers, Tom Hopper and others to name just a few.
An open tab was maintained at the club as just a cost of doing business.
And when a closing occurred, it was definitely reason for celebration.
I can personally report that sometimes celebrating at Sue and Tub Coulston’s Cove Club just wasn’t enough when Hopper sauntered over to the pay phone, called Junior Bailey, who owned and operated the Lakeview Supper Club and said, “Junior, Jerry Hopper here. I’d like to order a round for the house!”
As Jerry worked his way up the construction ladder, he worked with several area and metro based big name architects.
We’re speculating a bit here, but Jerry must have been a wee bit disenchanted with their fees and turn- around time.
The next thing on the agenda was to master the current state-of-the-art designer software and teaching himself how to use it…and as far as I can report, he never participated in any formal training of any kind.
Make no mistake about it, he still worked with designers and architects, but when a change was needed for the progression of a job, he just handled that duty right now.
A few years ago, Jerry and his wife Kae, along with Pete and Ramona Seitz, purchased Jones Hardware in Ketchum and have transformed it into a square block enterprise.
Together they have jointly changed the face of the small lake town, while providing products and services never before envisioned.
Most recently, their partnership has birthed yet another company, Floating Door, which manufactures and installs airplane hangar doors.
The self-professed workaholic had the most fun when he’s was in the problem solving mode and hard at it.
Personally, I’ll look forward to seeing my pal again on the other side, and no matter how glorious we Christians have envisioned heaven, there will no doubt have been some remodeling completed and some unique problems solved since Jerry’s arrival.
Jerry has occupied speed dial #4 on my phone for as long as I can remember, and now, I don’t have access to his new area code, but I’ll leave #4 the way it is, just in case maybe he’ll text it to me.
One of those unique Grand Lake individuals we’ve had the pleasure of calling friend along the way…..and he, along with his friends and family, could use some additional prayer about now.
The family asks that donations be made to South Grand Lake Lions Club Scholarship Fund, St Jude’s Children’s Hospital, or Home of Hope.