Gary King, fifth from left, surrounded by friends at the Iowa 80 Truckstop, at the first annual Gary King Trucker Buddy award presentation during the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, July 2006.
ELKHORN, Wis. –The trucking industry lost an icon with the passing of Gary King, 61, the founder of Trucker Buddy International. King died after an extended illness on June 8 at his home in Elkhorn.
A memorial service will be held June 16 at the Haase-Derrick-Lockwood Funeral Home, 730 N. Wisconsin St., Elkhorn. Visitation will be held at 1 p.m., with services at 2 p.m.
King was born April 23, 1946, in Princeton, Ind. After serving in the US Air Force, he drove truck for more than 30 years before retiring in 1993.
In 1992, while still an owner/operator with Dart Transit, King began writing postcards to classrooms. This was the beginning of Trucker Buddy, a pen-pal program that supplements the education of elementary children while educating the public about the trucking industry.
“In 15 years that the Trucker Buddy pen-pal program has been in existence, more than a million young people have learned geography, history and math, and improved their communications skills through participation in the program. They will always have a positive image of trucking and truckers,” said close friend, Paul Abelson, who also serves on the Trucker Buddy advisory board.
David Grose, a long-time Trucker Buddy volunteer and board member and another close friend, credits King with giving him an opportunity to make a difference.
“Gary found a great way to make a positive difference in the education of children with Trucker Buddy. By being a Trucker Buddy, not only could I make a difference in the lives of children, but with the attitude of America to trucking, too,” said Grose, an owner/operator. “I just loved Gary I thought he was a super guy. Gary and Carol both, just great people. My dream now is to see that Gary’s legacy lives on, that we continue to improve the organization and that his dream continues to bring more positive things to light for the industry.”
Grose has been matched with teacher Bonnie Dick, who was handpicked for him by King, for 12 years.
The outpouring of affection and sense of loss extends across the industry.
“Gary came up with a great idea with the Trucker Buddy program and Kenworth has been proud to support this worthwhile endeavor since the program’s inception,” said Jeff Parietti, public relations manager at Kenworth Truck Company. “Gary’s lasting legacy will be that his vision resulted in the education of thousands of children over the years through a fun learning process aided by the many Trucker Buddies who willingly volunteered their time.”
“Humble, good natured, compassionate” are the three words that come to mind when he thinks of King, said Doug Siefkes, principal of SiefkesPetit, a PR agency. “From the first day I talked with Gary, back in 1993, I knew he was a man who had great conviction and dedication to his family, his friends and his adopted friends – his Trucker Buddies,” Siefkes said. “Gary always used to say, ‘I’m just a trucker with a good idea.’ But he was obviously much more than that and his idea of Trucker Buddy has long been the best program the trucking industry has ever seen.”
Darrel Hicks, past president of Trucker Buddy, who is still a Trucker Buddy and sits on the advisory board of the organization, reminisced about his first meeting with Trucker Buddy and King.
“I first heard about Trucker Buddy in the spring of 1994. During that summer, I was driving between Phoenix and Tucson and met Gary at the TA in Eloy, Arizona. I asked him if I could be a Trucker Buddy, as unique as my job was. He said he would consider it. Three months later, I was assigned to a fourth grade class in Fletcher, North Carolina. What a thrill to be accepted in the TBI program and to work with the kids,” Hicks related. “Gary was truly a visionary. He had so many ideas to help the program work. He and Carol never enjoyed much monetary income, but they enjoyed a lot of blessings from working with the drivers, kids and their teachers. Gary and I became close friends over the years. He brought more blessings to my life than I can remember.”
Trucker Buddy Mark Taylor, current president of the board and one of a number of Trucker Buddies who have been volunteering with the program for a decade or more, said the industry has lost a valuable friend.
“It’s sad that the man who started this incredible program has passed away. As a Trucker Buddy myself, I appreciate the program Gary started because it gives drivers like myself, who have pride, self respect and know our value to this country, a way to give back to the community,” said Taylor, a driver for Wal-Mart. “We, as drivers, are the motor of this country. Gary’s idea to put us in a position to help educate children is one that will live on forever.”
“Over the years, as Gary’s health declined, he was ever upbeat and fought a good fight against cancer. It was never ‘why me.’ He was ready to meet his good Lord and was always more concerned about how others were doing,” Siefkes said. “Gary will be missed. He made an impact on many people’s lives…a big one on mine. As I told Gary a few weeks ago, what he’s accomplished will live on forever. He showed what one man with an idea can accomplish. No one had a bigger heart. And more love for his family and friends.”
Hicks added, “Gary had a dream. This feisty, ornery, lovable trucker driver and his wife truly led thousands of adults and kiddies to a new, higher level in their life experience. His dreams were fulfilled. Gary, you are in His Hands. We love you.”
King is survived by his wife of 35 years, Carol; children Melissa King and David King of Elkhorn and Sarah Paul Crow of Alliance, Ohio; grandchildren Autumn and Shelby Crow; a sister, Emma (Marty Hansford) Peach of Sacramento, Calif.; and a brother, the Rev. Carl (Penny) King of Oceans Springs, Miss. King was preceded in death by his parents, Rufus J. and Bessie G. King, his brother Rollie and sister Madeline.
A memorial fund for the family has been set up. Contributions can be sent to: Gary King Memorial Fund, c/o Monona State Bank, P.O. Box 6500, Monona, Wis. 53716.
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