Now that the Ramsey Park zoo renovations are almost finished, the Friends of the Park are looking toward their next big project: renovating the 1979-era Zeb Gray shelter near the top of Ramsey Park’s west entrance — however, one question remains: who was Zeb Gray?
Now that the Ramsey Park zoo renovations are almost finished, the Friends of the Park are looking toward their next big project: renovating the Zeb Gray shelter near the top of Ramsey Park’s west entrance. The 1979-era shelter’s has long been popular for weddings, picnics, and family get-togethers, and the city and Friends are raising funds to do a $250,000 upgrade of the shelter in the next year or so. However, the man the shelter is named after has faded into obscurity. Who was Zeb Gray? Little is known about him today; only one photo of Gray could be found in the late local historian Gary Revier’s extensive collection, and Gray is not mentioned in any published local histories. What little is known about him comes only from the few remaining people around who actually knew him. Harold “Zeb” Gray was born in the late 1800s, and grew up in Redwood Falls. As a student at Redwood Falls High School, he loved sports and the outdoors. “If he had been born 80 years earlier he most likely would have been one of America’s earliest explorers,” wrote Revier, who as a youngster knew Gray. Gray enlisted in the National Guard, and became a member of Redwood’s Company L when World War I began. He was sent overseas to France and spent several years fighting in the worst of the trench warfare. When Gray returned to Redwood Falls, he was a different man. As Revier wrote in 2004, “...he was no doubt the most spiritual man (I) had ever met. He wasn’t much for sitting in church on Sunday, but he found faith in everything he viewed and experienced.” Gray moved into a house near the west entrance to Ramsey Park, and spent many hours and many of his own dollars teaching youngsters in the community to fish, hunt, trap, and just enjoy the outdoors. Revier reminisced, “I learned to water ski on Lake Redwood behind (Gray’s) boat, which was always available to the youths of the community. “He was an extremely patient man who wanted nothing more than to pass on the things he loved to future generations,” Revier said. When a new shelter was proposed in the late 1970s for the west end of the park, someone brought up the idea of naming it after Gray. He might not have been as famous as other people who contributed to the park, but he was perhaps one of the people who loved it most. And sometimes that’s enough.