By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
CEDAR CREEK LAKE-Members of the local community are mourning the loss of three prominent community leaders who contributed to the area’s economy and sense of place.
In Gun Barrel City, (Valarie) Sam Blair, credited with saving the Gun Barrel City Christmas Parade, died May 23, 2015 at the age of 73; and Athens resident Ken Landers, who kicked off the Heritage Cove business park, died May 29, 2015 at the age of 63. Landers also served one term on the East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply District board of directors.
While many may recall him as a controversial businessman, Landers fostered a grand vision, which encapsulates the entrepreneurial spirit. His daring personality led him to become a minor league baseball player, a pilot and a real estate developer/home builder. He took a dusty plan to develop a business park in the middle of downtown Gun Barrel City and forged some of the key pieces to form what is now Heritage Cove. A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, May 29, at Carroll-Lehr Funeral Chapel in Athens.
Blair had been a part of the Gun Barrel City community for 28 years and promoted the city and its events, while in regular attendance at the city council meetings. Her contributions and enthusiasm in years past have helped lay the ground work for so much its residents enjoy today. She is credited with printing the city’s first promotional T-shirt and giving it to Willie Nelson in a publicity stunt and was one of the founding members of the city’s beautification committee. A Celebration of Life for her was set for 6 p.m. Friday, May 29, at the Oak Harbor Community Center, off Welch Lane in Gun Barrel City.
The third death is that of John Rowley, of Smoot Wyoming. He was 73. Rowley was responsible for landing Solar Turbines, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., in Mabank. The manufacturer has employed some 300 people since 1992 and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Henderson County United Way and other local charities over the years.
Businessman Terry Groom counted Rowley as one of the few men who had the greatest influence on his life. “He was a very special individual and one of the smartest and the most ethical I ever met,” he said.
Groom recalled the even-tempered man showing rare signs of being upset, a short-time into his second career as a deluxe home builder in the Pinnacle Club. One of his subcontractors approached him with a question about what “kickback” Rowley expected from him, so he could include the amount in the final billing. “I’ll carry this the rest of my life,” Groom said. Rowley said, he told the subcontractor “you don’t ever do that with me again. I’ll make my money up front with the homeowner, fair and square. Don’t ever do something like that again, or you’ll not work for me.”
Larry Teague, who was mayor back then, delivered the news of Rowley’s passing to The Monitor. “The economic impact of having Solar Turbines in Mabank all these years are incalculable,” Teague said. “And it was all because of John Rowley. He was very community minded while he was here, and supported a lot of local people.”
Rowley’s protégé with Solar, Kelly Callihan, says Rowley was the kind of man that made good things happen.
“I worked with him for eight years and he was my mentor,” Callihan said. “I talked to him the week before he passed. He was a great man who would do anything for anyone, hard-working, extremely kind.” Rowley and his wife, Anne, left Texas to retire near family in Smoot, Wyoming in 2001. Rowley kept in touch with Callihan and Groom through the years.
Groom said that on a visit to Canton’s First Monday, the Rowleys drove down to Mabank to look over a property (built up by ABO Truss — the firm’s current location) that had been developed with a large building for a truss company which became overextended. “He didn’t hesitate. He got on the phone and told them he had found a suitable site,” Groom said. Solar closed on the property in 1992, Callihan said.
Rowley was born Jan. 22, 1941 in Parowan, Utah to Rita and Waldo Rowley and joined the U.S. Navy in 1958, serving three tours of duty in Southeast Asia, on the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, Oriskany and Midway through 1967. He began his career with Solar Turbines, traveling to more than 100 Countries, including Tehran, Iran. He is survived by his wife of 40 years, five offspring, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.