Gary Neptune: pastor to the people
Written in cooperation with the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Craig Daily Press
The people of Craig always have held to their faith to help them build the community and sustain their lives. It took a special person to be a spiritual leader on the frontier – whether it was in the late 1880s or the mid-20th century.
Some of the pastors didn’t last more than a few months, while others spent the majority of their lives ministering to the people of Craig.
Gary Neptune was born in Grand Island, Neb., in 1935. He attended McCook Junior College and Doane College before finishing his formal education at the Graduate School of Theology in Oberlin, Ohio.
In 1959, he married Pat, who was a New York native. The couple served in pastoral positions in churches in Nebraska from 1961 until their move to Colorado in 1966. They had three children at the time and were ready to find a place to settle down.
Craig quickly became home to the family, and Neptune made his mark on the town for the next 31 years. They added two more children to their family and took active roles in the community.
Neptune didn’t confine his activities to preaching and teaching in his church.
He served as a chaplain for the hospital and the police. He didn’t feel that his calling was only to the pulpit and was happy to help any person in town who needed him.
He founded a support group for parents who lost children to illness or accident. He also served on the Board of the Needy Assistance program and was active in the Western Conference of the United Congregational Church Association.
Neptune also found time to play golf and was part of an informal group of men dubbed “The Jolly Boys.” The group got together to golf, fish, hunt or play poker and had great fun doing so. His family looked forward to their regular visits back to New York for vacations.
During his tenure, Neptune officiated at 634 weddings, 318 funerals and 284 baptisms. He didn’t care what, if any, denomination people were but focused on their needs.
In the late 1970s, Neptune suffered a massive heart attack and struggled with the damage it did until January 1997, when he went on a transplant list to receive a new heart.
He began sharing pastoral duties with the Rev. Ken Forshee and made plans for him to take over duties when he got his transplant.
Early in February 1997, Forshee suffered a heart attack and was transported to Denver for treatment.
The following Sunday, Neptune took part in choir practice and Sunday School before heading to his office to look over his sermon one more time.
As the church bell rang to call congregants to worship, his head slumped over his desk, and his heart stopped beating.
Church secretary Donna Lougee told a reporter that she felt there was no other place he would rather be, “though the golf course would probably run a close second.” (Craig Daily Press February 18, 1997)
“He wanted people to realize that ministers were not saints, that they were only trying to be. That they were only trying to help others be the best that they could,” Neptune’s longtime friend, Neil McCandless, said of him.
In addition to his wife, Pat, Gary Neptune left behind five children and eight grandchildren. They were joined in their sorrow by a community that had been well served by a faithful servant for many years.
Shannan Koucherik may be reached at email@example.com
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