Originally published Thursday, May 17, 2018 at 06:00a.m.
Most of us are cut from normal bolts of cloth, but once in a while, I run across someone who is constructed from a special kind of fabric. Gary Farnsworth has been part of our informal Wednesday morning breakfast group for quite a while. I’ve finally concluded that this man is a walking, breathing column that ought to be written and shared.
At the age of 19, he joined the Navy. Everyone who lives in Virginia does that sooner or later, I’m told. After a couple of years in the fleet visiting some 25 countries, Gary began underwater demolition training as a Navy SEAL. He says he liked the training but his feet didn’t because his boots didn’t fit properly. A SEAL Review Board offered him an Involuntary Disenrollment, saying that once his feet healed, he’d be welcomed back into the program. But rejoining the training program meant reenlisting for another four years, so he went back to the fleet and was discharged at the end of his tour.
As soon as he unpacked his Navy duffle bag, Gary headed for the Wyoming rodeo grounds where he developed bruises and blisters riding broncos bareback. After three years and a serious concussion, he enrolled at the University of Wyoming where he earned a bachelor of science degree. He worked as a ranch cowboy briefly before returning to the university to earn a master’s degree in animal reproductive physiology and nutrition.
The next 14 years were spent teaching animal science in classrooms at Colorado State and Oregon State universities. He started a Ph.D. program, but soon decided another degree wouldn’t add enough octane to his academic career so he did what any red-blooded American would do — he quit teaching and went to Alaska.
As the Executive Director of the Kenai Sport Fishing Association, he hosted a number of high-profile personalities and spend considerable time hunting and fishing with NFL tight end Jay Novacek, who played most notably for the Dallas Cowboys. He even managed to play a small part in a Clint Eastwood movie. He soon tired of the politics of association management and became a hunting and fishing guide. Instead of fish he now hunted grizzlies, moose, caribou, wolves and Dall sheep.
Sometime around 2014, he decided to emigrate to the lower 48, picking Prescott, Arizona, as his base of operations. He lived on Whiskey Row for a while, then found Chino Valley and a storage facility with enough security to protect his sizable collection of treasures gathered from a lifetime of adventure.
I asked Gary to name three events that seriously affected his life. He listed the death of his father, his divorce in 1994 and his training with the SEALS that taught him to explore his full physical and mental potential.
Over the years, he also explored his spiritual potential, joining the Antiochian Orthodox Church in 2009, establishing connections with several Greek and Russian Orthodox monasteries around the country. He explains that he was drawn to Russian Orthodoxy because its lineage can be traced to first-century Christianity. Also that the practice of humility and confession helps lead one closer to Christ.
Even during his years here in Arizona, Gary’s pickup truck is seldom in the driveway. He and his dog, Gambler, are usually out kayaking, hiking some little-known trail, or checking out historic ruins somewhere in the state.
The words hermit or recluse might apply to his lifestyle, except he probably knows more characters in every state west of the Mississippi than the telephone company does.
My final question to Gary was, where do you go now? He simply stated, “Wherever God leads me.”
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