Gary Kenneth Gilbert, 81, of Cape Girardeau, July 4, 2014. He was the son of
Charles Wooten and Violet Markhart Gilbert, born in the family home on North
Middle in Cape Girardeau on February 3, 1933. Family and friends knew him as
"Sonny", given to him as a young boy by his mother who exclaimed that, "he was
so bright, we had to put a washtub on him to let the sun come up".
Sonny grew up in Southeast Missouri, and was a 1951 graduate of Jackson High
School and a 1955 graduate of Southeast Missouri State College with an
Industrial Arts and Education degree and he lettered 4 years in basketball
where fans, and especially opponents, would remember him for his uncanny
dribbling skills. He never stopped learning and added a Master of Science
degree in Education in 1961 and a Specialist in Education Administration
degree in 1971, both from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL.
While in college, Sonny participated in the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class
leading to a 2nd Lieutenant Commission upon graduation and achieving the rank
of 1st Lieutenant prior to his completion of active duty. He continued in the
Reserves and was honorably discharged in 1961.
Sonny married Joy Kurka of Cape Girardeau, on October 1, 1955 at Marine Corps
Base Quantico - Quantico, VA.
Sonny taught industrial arts at schools in Flint, MI, in 1958-59, and Malden,
MO, 1959-1965. While at Malden, he founded the Malden Tri-County Trade School.
He also coached the Flint Huskies and Malden Greenwave high schools'
basketball, football, and baseball teams.
In 1965, Sonny moved back to Cape Girardeau and founded the Cape Area
Vocational Technical School, commonly called Cape Vo-Tech. Under his
direction, the area benefitted from his founding of many high school and adult
education programs at Cape Vo-Tech that continue to
be available to everyone today at the current Career and Technology Center.
Sonny expanded his
influence nationally working on several activities, programs, and committees
of the National Vocational Association (NVA) and other state and national
education organizations. He served a 4 year term on the NVA Board and as
President. Upon retirement in 1992, after 27 years as Vo-Tech director, Sonny
continued as a consultant for the Missouri State Department of Education for
In 1980, Sonny took up running and quickly became a top competitor in his age
group in local and area races including several marathons. He supported the
running community with his support of the fledgling Cape Roadrunners Club,
running and volunteering for nearly every race, serving in club offices,
including President and as a Club Board Member.
Sonny was a true fan of the St Louis Cardinals baseball team all of his life
and often recalled Dizzy Dean's, Harry Caray's and Jack Buck's play-by-play
radio broadcasts. He would quickly name Stan Musial as his favorite player and
cherished a replica Musial harmonica from a recent home game giveaway. This
favoritism was perhaps tied into the similarities of his and Musial's
left-handed play of the outfield and first base. As a young man Sonny had
dreamed of a pro baseball career, and while considered an excellent player, he
could never quite make the cut in his pro baseball tryouts.
Sonny was an avid civil war re-enactor, and participated in re-enacting events
all over the country. He was considered an excellent reference and example of
authenticity, with authentic clothing and weaponry. In addition, he was
self-taught to play the harmonica, fife, and violin for typical period camp
entertainment, volunteered for show-and-tell at schools in full uniform and
character, and portrayed as an infantryman in the 1993 movie "Gettysburg" in
which he would fondly tell of many conversations he had with Sam Elliott (Brig
Gen'l John Buford) during many lulls in the movie production.
Sonny immersed himself in the study of the history of the American West and
the Indian Wars. For over 30 years he traveled to Montana to commemorate the
Battle of the Little Bighorn every June 25th. He supported the Little Bighorn
Associates, the Custer Battlefield Museum and Historical Association, Friends
of the Little Bighorn Battlefield, and the Order of the Indian Wars. He
extended his interest by becoming a National Master Ranger Corps volunteer for
12 years at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, MT, and Fort Bowie
National Historic Site, AZ.
Since 2002, he contributed countless hours of research for programs that
continue to look for true
details of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, specifically identifying hundreds
of Native American
participants and contributing to and documenting accounts.
Sonny was the most patriotic person anyone ever knew. His love of country
reflected in all he did. His tragic death on July 4th was ironically just
after an Independence Day family celebration when he gathered his family
annually for talk, songs, and celebration of the flag and country. These
celebrations and presentations were famous within his circle of family and
In everything he did, he exemplified the saying, "if it's worth doing at all,
it's worth doing your best", yet he often humbly repeated that he was a "jack
of all trades, master of none".
Survivors include his wife, Joy Kurka Gilbert of Cape Girardeau; son Kenneth
Dean Gilbert of Cary, NC; daughters Gay and husband Robert Pilsner of Cape
Girardeau and Julie and husband Kenneth Becker of Poplar Bluff, MO.
Grandchildren on Kenneth's side include Sunny Deshea Gilbert of Ellisville,
MO, and Katie Michelle Gilbert of Las Vegas, NV. Grandchildren on Gay's side
include Arthur Blake Pilsner and wife Sara, Heidi Pilsner, Alex Wayne Pilsner,
Haley Pilsner, and Hannah Pilsner, all of Cape Girardeau. On Julie's side
grandchildren include Luke Spencer Becker and Connor Reece Becker, and
step-grandchildren include Erika Danielle Becker and husband Daniel Parks and
Alison Machelle Becker all of Poplar Bluff. Siblings include sister Betty Rose
Gilbert Litzelfelner and Donald Charles Gilbert both of Dallas, TX.
Greatgrandchildren include Rylie Priggel, Saydi Priggel, and Erin Delaney
Viewing will be held at Ford and Sons Mt. Auburn Funeral Home, 1001 N. Mt.
Auburn Rd., Cape Girardeau, MO from 4:00 to 8:00pm, Tuesday, July 8, 2014,
followed by invitation for family and friends to present personal memories
beginning at 7:00pm, ending with a military tribute in honor of his patriotism
and service to his country.
In lieu of flowers, donations are requested to be made in Gary Gilbert's name
to, Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield, PO Box 636, Crow Agency, MT
59022 (303)-229-8319. Make checks out to "Friends LBH".
Online condolences may be made at the
Ford and Sons