Gary Bart Stamper, a big-hearted man who loved to tell strangers about his beloved hometown of Mossyrock -- “tucked half-way between Seattle and Portland and 20 miles east of I-5” – died Sept. 29, 2021, after a five-week battle with COVID-19. He was 67.
Born May 22, 1954, Gary was the second-youngest of Nelson and Bernadine Stamper’s nine children. Growing up in Riffe and then Mossyrock, Gary learned the value of family and frugality. Times were sometimes tough, but the humble family home was rich with love.
Though his mom ran a tight ship, young Gary and his friends found plenty of (mostly harmless) mischief in neighboring fields, on county roads and along the banks of Klickitat Creek.
In high school, “Bones,” as he was known, earned straight A’s in basketball, baseball and football. His classmates voted him Most Popular, Friendliest, Peppiest and Best Personality his senior year, but loved ones joke that it was only because Mossyrock High School had a graduating class of about 10 in 1973. (Later in life, Gary would be voted Least Popular at every airport because he’d hold up the TSA line playing Luggage Tetris as he swapped this T-shirt for that quarter-zip to avoid overage fees for his overweight suitcases).
After high school graduation, Gary headed off to college, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Central Washington University and a master’s in school administration from Heritage University. He then returned to his alma mater, MHS, as a teacher / athletic director (1985-2007) before becoming vice principal / athletic director at North Beach High School (2007-2010) and then principal at White Pass Junior-Senior High School (2010-2015).
In June 1981, he and fellow Mossyrock alum Hildegard Williams wed. They welcomed daughters Sheena and Michele before parting ways in 2007.
The girls – and basketball – were his pride and joy. He celebrated both on Sunday nights, which were reserved for spaghetti dinners with the Belcher family at Grandma and Grandpa Wiedemann’s house, followed by lessons in Gary’s favorite classroom: the Mossyrock Middle School gym, where his syllabus focused on free throws and 5-5-5s.
“Coach G’Stamp” took over the Vikings’ girls’ basketball program in 1994 and led the team to the state tournament 10 times in 13 years. The team brought home the top prize – the state 2B championship title – in 2007, Michele’s senior year. Too modest to ever take credit himself, Gary insisted the players alone deserved the accolades.
Gary hung up his whistle after that championship win, walking away on top with a 259-81 record over 13 seasons. Years later, he’d still make the annual pilgrimage to Spokane to cheer on the next generation of hoops stars.
When his favorite players, “Best Buddy SheenaBird” and “Best Buddy Michele,” added to their rosters by becoming parents themselves, the once-tough coach became Grandpa Gary, the giver of hugs and candy. His daughters marveled at how soft he’d become.
That softness was ever apparent to Bobbi Barnes, whom he started dating in 2015, the year he joined the Lewis County Board of County Commissioners.
When Gary wasn’t at the courthouse or visiting his constituents on the east end of the county, he and Bobbi would embark on unforgettable (mis)adventures: from missed flights and misplaced luggage to wrong exits and wonky heaters, there was always something to laugh about later – sometimes much later. They enjoyed trips to concerts and 5Ks -- as well as exploring the Pacific Northwest’s trails with their beloved “doodle” dogs, Clark and Sawyer.
In addition to traveling, Gary loved helping others. It was second nature to him. Whether it was purchasing furniture for a widowed mom, buying shoes for a child in need, building a wheelchair ramp for a student or helping a troubled teen at school, Gary’s generosity shone through time and again.
Some of the recipients of his kindness didn’t even know they’d been helped: the momma bird he donated his kayak to so she’d have a safe place to nest; the “slender skunk named Chips” for whom he launched a Meals on Wheels dinner-delivery program; the countless squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons and other four-legged friends he fed around – and sometimes inadvertently in – the house. His altruism knew no limits.
Gary could be a bit of a hoarder, too. He amassed a huge collection of shoes and baseball cards as well as more bed sheets than one person could ever use (but they were on sale!). And no trip to Costco was complete without picking up blueberries, Frosted Mini Wheats and /or Smart Pop popcorn for his loved ones.
It's that thoughtful, giving nature that will be sorely missed by so many.
Gary is survived by his spouse Bobbi Barnes in Mossyrock; two daughters, Sheena Woods (with husband Emmet and their children, Rory and Reese) and Michele Gore (with husband Jesse and daughters Hadley and Emma); a stepson, Tyler Walster (with wife Jessica Walster and daughters Olivia and Kambree); a stepdaughter, Kelly Walster (with Charlie Chancellor and daughter Cree); a brother, Terry (Pam) Stamper; five sisters, Lois Wilson, Marilyn Wright, Audrey (Dick) McClanahan and Lola (Otis) D’Agostino; and an extensive network of cherished family members and friends.
In addition to his parents, Gary was preceded in death by a sister, Sharon Bourque, and two brothers, Jim Stamper and Allen (Cookie) Stamper.
A celebration of Gary’s life will take place at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in the Blue Pavilion at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds, with Pastor Wayne Nelson officiating. Light refreshments will be provided immediately following the memorial service. Attendees are encouraged to dress warmly as the facility’s large doors will be left open to improve airflow.
The family will hold a private interment ceremony at the Klickitat Cemetery in Mossyrock at a later date.
Arrangements are by Cattermole Funeral Home in Winlock.
For those who wish to make a donation in his honor, the family suggests considering one of three scholarships that have been created in his memory through the following:
Cards for Gary’s family can be sent to: To the family of Commissioner Stamper, c/o Lewis County BOCC, 351 N.W. North St., Chehalis, WA 98532.