Jack Gyer, founder of the Sierra Star and long time civic leader, died Wednesday, Aug. 1 in Fresno at the age of 97. An integral member of the community, Gyer was a resident of Oakhurst for 58 years, helping establish many organizations that are still active throughout the Mountain Area.
Gyer moved to the area from Los Angeles with his family in 1954 after his doctor told him he needed to get out of the city for health reasons. While working as a Realtor, Gyer began to notice that the community needed a way to coordinate the activities of organizations in the community according to a Sierra Star interview with Gyer in 2002.
Gyer and Cal Ragland, a real estate associate who formerly worked for the San Francisco Examiner, began working together on publishing the first edition of the Sierra Star -- Gyer as publisher, Ragland as editor. The charter subscription for a year was $2 and soon they had 600 subscribers -- out of a population of about 800 at the time.
They acquired an old typesetter from the Fresno Bee and Gyer did typesetting. After three sleepless days, the first paper was printed Nov. 7, 1957. The Sierra Star was then located at the corner of Highway 41 and Crane Valley Road (426).
Gyer co-owned and operated the Sierra Star for nine years. Cleon and Kathy Jones, who were co-owners and printed the paper at their business, Ponderosa Printing, became sole owners of the Star in 1966.
Cleon recalls Gyer, Ragland and himself putting multiple hours in every week to get the paper produced. The would go to work at 7 a.m. and Cleon said Gyer would work until midnight. They would all take a break at 6 p.m. to grab dinner together. Every Monday they'd head over Deadwood Mountain to eat at the most popular restaurant in the area at the time, the Broken Bit. Cleon said Gyer's passion was photography and he was the paper's main photographer, putting as many photos in the newspaper as possible. He would also go out and find stories to write about. Those early days were rough financially.
"I don't know how we did it but we survived," Cleon said. "Jack was a very unselfish person and gave all he could and didn't get anything back. His heart was always in the community."
However Gyer's involvement in the community reached much further than the newspaper. He was also one of the founders of the Oakhurst Lions Club, Vision Academy of the Arts, Sierra Chamber Singers, Sierra Historic Sites Association, the Positive Living Center, Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst and the Oakhurst Petanque Club. He was also a contributor to the Yosemite Association and a curator for the Yosemite National Park Archives. He even found time to author a book, "Yosemite, Sage of the Century." He was also a reverend for the Emerson Theological Institute, dean of faculty.
"It would be hard not to find any outstanding projects or activities here in Oakhurst that doesn't have Jack's fingerprints on it,," said Angelo Pizelo, pastor of the Positive Living Center and long time friend of Gyer's. "He had this inner passion to be creative and do good things for the community. He put his whole heart in it. I'm going to miss him a lot."
Longtime friend Peggy VanAman said the work done by the Gyers for the art community was fantastic. Before their involvement, VanAman said there really was no way for artists to come together.
"They were wonderful people and very talented," VanAman said. "Jane was the artist and Jack promoted that throughout Oakhurst."
Jackie Byers, also a long time friend of Gyer's and involved in Vision Academy, said he was a big promoter of art in the mountains and made sure things were done right.
"He had these standards and we were going to meet them hell or high water," Byers said. "He brought out the best in people and made you more than what you thought you could be ... we accomplished more because of his standards and may have settled on less but he challenged us."
Sheila Adams knew both Jack and Jane from Sierra Chamber Singers and Vision Academy.
"Jack was a very lovely person, full of energy, ideas and love for others," she said. "He gave so much of himself to Oakhurst and its people. He enabled others to realize their own dreams. He will be greatly missed."
Gyer moved to the Fairwinds retirement home in Fresno in 2010.
Gyer was preceded in death by his artist wife Jane in 2004. The art building at Yosemite High School was named the "Jack and Jane Gyer Art Building" in 2009 in recognition for all their support of the school.
Jane designed the 65-yard long mural on the New Community Methodist Church retaining wall on Crane Valley Road (426) Road 427, which was a YHS-Vision Academy project and Jack donated all her original drawings and plans of the project to the school after her death.
Jack was also a strong supporter of the formation of YHS.
A celebration of life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Vision Academy or Sierra Historic Sites Association.