CRESWELL – Retired educator and esteemed community member Gary Mounce, 71, of Creswell, Ore., passed away in his home on Aug. 10 as a result of congestive heart failure. He was born on July 21, 1950 in Lafayette, Ind. and was a Creswell resident for more than a decade.
With an affinity for higher education, Gary was a school administrator for over 34 years. He was principal at Creswell High from 2009-14. He was also a principal at Clatskanie School District from 2004-09, the superintendent of Stanfield School District from 2001-04, and the principal and athletic director at South Lane School District from 1995-2001. He was awarded Teacher of the Year for Sacramento County in 1991.
“He was really dedicated to kids,” said Laurel Henry, Gary’s widow. “I loved his disciplinary approach. He wasn’t punitive with them.”
Marilyn Cruzan, administrative secretary at CSD, remembers Gary fondly. “Gary was a good-natured gentleman who cared for the community and spent his career serving students,” Cruzan recalled.
“He said he felt like it was his responsibility to be at every football game, every basketball game, every event,” Laurel said, recalling that Gary’s objective each year was to learn the name of each student, including a personal detail about their interests and goals. “He made it his personal mission to connect with kids on their own level.”
His administrative approach spoke to his overall demeanor, and through his roles, the philomath in him thrived.
“Gary just had a love of education. I think part of that was him having grown up in abject poverty,” Laurel said, recalling he said he only had two pairs of pants in his youth – one torn pair of blue jeans, the other a stained pair of khakis.
After touring those college campuses, “he knew that education was the ticket out of poverty,” she said.
Through his pursuit for higher education, Mounce earned a degree in Educational Administration from California State University at Sacramento; a bachelor’s degree in Education from Purdue University; an associate’s degree in business from American River College; and a masters degree in administration from the University of Oregon.
While Gary was the principal at Creswell High from 2009-14, Laurel worked as a career counselor for at-risk children at Cottage Grove High School. Back then, educators from neighboring schools would often volunteer at Autzen Stadium, operating beer booths during Ducks games.
It was at one of those games that Mounce caught Henry’s eye one day while taking a break.
“I was sitting with a friend of mine and she said, ‘You see that man over there? He looks kind of sad,’” pointing at Mounce. Henry reacted immediately, calling him over to sit with them.
She said that Gary resisted initially, but that she was persistent.
Her persistence paid off.
“We just had an instant rapport,” she said, having initially bonded over both being from the midwest. “There was just something about him, it’s like we just clicked when I met him at that game. We were just together from that point forward.”
The two wed at Hendrick’s Park on April 27, 2010.
It was a no-brainer for Laurel to marry Gary, she said; her mother had always told her to find a man that treats his mother well, because a man who treats his mother well will treat her well, too.
It was sound advice, Laurel said, and Gary hit it out of the park right off the bat.
“When we first started going out, he said, ‘I hope you don’t mind but I take my mom out for dinner at least once a week.’ I thought, ‘Why would I mind? I think that’s fabulous.’”
She’d come to learn that Gary was a self-described feminist, “Which is remarkable for a man from his era,” she said. “He really stood up for women’s rights. He really cracked down on the boys that were disrespectful toward girls in school, because, well, he had a wife and he had a daughter and he loved his mother. He really had a strong admiration for women.
“He just always had a real sweet disposition and nice nature to him,” Laurel said. “He was reasonable, calm and kind because he remembered how hard it was to be a teenageer himself.”
From an early age, Laurel said Gary was a social justice advocate.
“He believed nobody should be discriminated against. He could never understand why everyone didn’t think that way,” she said. His mantra, taken from Williams Shakespeare, was to “Love all, trust few, do wrong to none.”
“Injustice just made him crazy,” she said, and the passion followed him throughout his life.
He was involved in Civil Rights advocacy since he was a teenager, and was cremated in a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.
He was an outdoorsman. He also worked in the private sector in the National Forest Service as a woodland firefighter along the McKenzie River. He loved the rivers where he lived, including the McKenzie River and the Wabash River in Indiana, near his hometown, Henry said.
Gary enjoyed classic cowboy movies, black and white labrador retrievers, Oregon Ducks games, books written by John Grisham, and music by James Taylor.
Gary was a volunteer for South Valley Recreation from 1995-97; an advisor for Future Farmers of America from 2002-04; a volunteer for Parent Partnership, a family support organization from 1997-2001; a member of the School Resource Officers Association from 2001-03; on the executive board of the Oregon School Association and Activities from 2002-04; a local Kiwanis member from 2004-06; a United Way board member from 2007-09; a national coordinator for Oregon Confederation of Secondary School Administrators (COSA) from 2009-14; a Creswell City Councilor from 2016-18; and also ran for Creswell mayor in 2018.
“I was just stark-raving crazy mad about that man,” Laurel said.
Services will be announced at a later time.