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President Gentry stands out as pioneer family descendent
July 07, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Courtesy Photo A young Don Gentry is dressed up to join in the young people’s square dancing group Boots and Bustles.

The Gentry family history goes back to the county’s beginning.
Benjamin F. Gentry homesteaded near Minatare in 1886, when most of the southern Panhandle was taken up by the sprawling Cheyenne County. When Scotts Bluff County was carved out in 1889, Ben Gentry was elected as the first County Clerk. His assistant was his wife, Cora, who later became the first teacher in the Scottsbluff School District.

Three generations later, Dr. Don Gentry of Gering will serve as Honorary Old Settlers President during the 95th annual Oregon Trail Days.

Don’s father, William Gentry, always went by “Dr. Bill.” Don said there were so many doctors in the family, they all went by their first names. The Gentry Clinic in Gering included Dr. Max, Dr. Bill, Dr. Harold and Dr. Don.

Bill graduated from medical school in 1930 from the University of Nebraska. He and his wife, Esther, couldn’t get married until then because she was a teacher. At the time, women couldn’t be teachers if they were married.

After an internship in Omaha, Dr. Bill started his family practice in Gering. In 1940, he built new offices across 10th Street from the County Courthouse, which is still there.

Bill’s brother Max joined the firm in 1938 after serving as a medical missionary in China. His daughter Alice, now Alice Kenitz, ran the lab for many years.

Don was born January 30 in 1942. He’s a 1960 Gering graduate and attended Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, as his parents did. He and his wife, Meredyth, were married in 1965. They were high school sweethearts.

He graduated from medical school in 1968. “I took a general internship after that because the practice of family medicine was just getting started,” Don said. “Everyone had a military obligation then, so I joined the U.S. Public Health Service with the idea of being stationed at an Indian reservation or someplace similar.”

The Public Health Service also had several Marine hospitals, which served Merchant Marines, the Coast Guard, and retired military. One of the hospitals was in Seattle and Don was stationed there for two years.

In 1971, Don returned to Gering to join the Gentry Clinic. He remained active in medicine until his retirement in 2007, the last of the family to practice in the community.

Don and Meredyth have two sons. Paul, the oldest, studied Computer Information Services at Colorado State. He currently works in the IT department at a Denver insurance brokerage firm. John, their younger son, went to medical school and is a pathologist at Methodist Hospital in Omaha. Plus, they have three young grandchildren.

Looking back on his youth, Don said he remembers Gering as a small town where many of the north-south streets were still gravel. Lawns were watered by flooding them with irrigation water.

“We listened to a lot of radio, but television didn’t come to the area until the early ‘50s when I was in junior high. Every Saturday, we were at the Grove Theater for movies.”

By the time he was in high school, Don said he tried football, but “realized I wasn’t very fast or very aggressive. I enjoyed band more and played the trombone.”

Oregon Trail Days have also changed over the years. Don said he remembers when the parade floats were much more elaborate and more marching bands participated. The carnival was set up along Q Street where the Dollar General building is now located. The free acts, another favorite, were performed from a stage in an empty lot where the Gering Public Library now sits. As a musician, Don said it was always fun to play with the Gering City Band in Legion Park.

Even in retirement, Don stays busy. “I became a member of the Gering Park, Cemetery and Tree Board in 1980 when my father stepped down,” he said. “He was sort of the manager of the parks back then and supervised all the work. Their philosophy back then was to plant as many trees as possible the kid could play in them.”

Don also serves on the Regional West Hospital Board and on the Foundation Board. He’s stayed involved in Scouting, getting involved when his sons were involved. While both of them became Eagle Scouts, Don said he made it to Tenderfoot. He’s been to five national Jamborees as well as an international event in Australia. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Long’s Peak Council for Boy Scouts.

Through his involvement with organizing Scouting displays for the North Platte Valley Museum, he became involved with the museum’s merger to form Legacy of the Plains Museum, where he’s a board member and volunteer. He and Meredyth also serve on the board for the Theatre West Garden Walk committee.

His other interests include gardening and involvement with the Wildcat Audubon Society. He’s also a lay delegate for the Gering United Methodist Church during its annual conference meetings.

“I probably keep too busy, but that’s OK,” Don said. “We’re lucky enough to be within driving distance to go and see the grandkids.”

Courtesy Photo One of Don Gentry’s interests is gardening. Gentry will serve as this year’s Honorary Old Settlers President during Oregon Trail Days.
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