Last week Clinton County lost a true treasure in Gary Kersey. Known for auctioneering and real estate, there was much more to him than this legacy.
Gary Kersey will be remembered for selling many farms, houses, antiques and yes, even pots and pans. Behind his sales were his well-known lines, “Today’s the day!” or “Take your time, but hurry up.”
His most famous ending line was, of course, “Thank you one and all for coming — even you deadbeats who didn’t bid.”
These were classic Gary Kersey lines, but behind those lines was wisdom beyond what most knew.
Gary was a teacher first and foremost. He wanted people to learn, not only from him, but also from others.
Gary went to college to become a teacher and he taught history at Wilmington Middle School, where he became interested in Abraham Lincoln. This interest would grow into a passion and help take him on his life’s journey.
He and Butch Peelle, a teacher then, would teach off each other’s lessons — Kersey would help with math, which Peelle taught. And Butch would help Gary with history by incorporating what the other was teaching into the lessons. Gary once told me that the kids really enjoyed it and it helped them grasp a concept that otherwise they may have missed.
After the school day ended, Gary would go up to the Bailey Murphy Real Estate Company where he would find his real life calling as an auctioneer and real estate agent. This would lead him on a path to owning his own company that we all know today as Kersey Real Estate.
He flourished in this role of auctioneer — it takes a certain type of person to stand a bid call and Kersey was a showman. He had what it took. Certain people are just known for their craft. All you needed to say was, “Call Kersey” and it automatically meant an auction.
This was the power of his name, and it was a brand that he carried.
Gary was well-known in the community. He sponsored bowling teams and shows at the Murphy Theatre, he would emcee the Corn Olympics at the Corn Festival, sit on the Clinton County Historical Society Board of Directors, and he never turned down a chance to talk about Lincoln.
He spoke about Lincoln all over the country, known coast to coast on the topics of Lincoln as well as the Civil War.
He loved his community and he would do anything for it. He once told me, “If you embrace the community, the community will embrace you.”
Gary was an avid sports fan. He would attend many Cincinnati Reds games with his family who he loved very much, even traveling to Arizona to watch spring training games. He also attended Wilmington High School football and basketball games.
Gary was no slouch of an athlete himself. In 1964 he set the school shot put record at 51-1/4 feet, and he played baseball and softball. He did all this while growing up and tending to a fully operational farm owned by his family.
The shocking news of Gary Kersey passing was truly heart wrenching. I worked for Gary for many years and he taught me so much. He was very patient with me as I learned the real estate and auction business. I enjoyed the work and meeting the people.
My love of history would help in my relationship with Gary as we would always be bouncing ideas and stories off one another. I owe Gary Kersey a great deal, and I can never thank him enough for helping me. He always looked out for the little guy, and that’s what made him so special.
He touched many lives
A colleague of mine, John Denny, had this to say about Gary: “The community has lost a great innovator and teacher. A bit of his knowledge and keen wit will live on in the many lives he touched.”
A long-time employee of Kersey Real Estate and Auction Company, Dan Williams said, “Gary was my eighth-grade history teacher and he continued to teach his whole life.
”There was always something to learn from Gary Kersey. Many times, after an auction, he would ask, ‘What did you learn today?’ He always made you think, and he made me a better person. He was a great friend to me and my family. He will be missed.”
Bill Peelle, a long-time friend of Gary’s and local attorney, said, “Gary sought excellence in everything he did. His interests were eclectic. He loved the farm, Wilmington College, the Murphy Theatre, Cincinnati Reds, spring training in Arizona, annual historical conferences in Gettysburg, all things Lincoln, model railroad trains, competitive horseshoe pitching, the auctioneering profession, his friends and, most importantly, his loving wife and family.
“He was consulted by noted authors and historians, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who sought Gary’s critical analysis of the author’s draft manuscript for a book on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
“Gary enjoyed helping people. His assistance to those in need was provided on a private basis. He did not seek recognition. I will miss Gary’s friendship, conversations, and humor. Clinton County has lost an authentic treasure.”
Local businessman and frequent patron of auctions Bill Marine said, “He was a great friend with many talents, realtor, auctioneer, sports enthusiast, teacher, and a great family man. “You always knew where you stood with Kersey, and he always was there to help in a time of need.”
Benjamin Kaplan said, “I met Gary at the middle school 48 years ago. I was a substitute teacher working on my master’s degree. Gary was teaching history. During my free period, I would go to Gary’s classroom and attend his class. Observing Gary taught me what a real history teacher was. He was a wonderful orator who made learning fun and fascinating. I looked forward to his class as a friend and student. Quite simply he was the best. Every student was going to have an extraordinary learning experience.
“He was a decent, kind man. Always professional, honest and a man of integrity. A man dedicated to his loving wife Sharon and his daughters Gina and Nina. A loving stepfather to his son Chuck. He was my dear friend and losing him overwhelms me with sadness. Always thinking of others, he was concerned about my wife Barbara while he was hospitalized. Gary exemplified everything a good man should be.”
Gary’s long-time office manager, Rhonda Wise, said, “Most folks saw the vibrant and some might say the exuberant side of Gary, whether it be at a history presentation or bid calling an auction. I had the fortunate opportunity to see his quiet, introspective side. It has been an honor to see the many facets of Kerz and to have such a special person touch my life in a way only he could.”
Perhaps local attorney Mack Fife summed it up best: “His friendship and knowledge cannot be replaced.” Fife added, “When Lincoln gave out his last breath, the room was quiet. Then War Secretary Stanton said, ‘Now he belongs to the ages.’”
Gary Kersey will be missed by many in Clinton County. Mack Fife was certainly right in bringing up the quote from Stanton.
Gary now belongs to the ages.
Jonathan McKay is a Clinton County native and a current member of Wilmington City Council.