Merrell — From modest roots to Delaware County Commissioner
By DUSTIN ENSINGER
For The Sunbury News
Delaware County Commissioner-elect Gary Merrell knows the value of hard work.
Growing up in the rural outskirts of Oklahoma City, he and his family did not have a lot. His father was a butcher and later a laborer. His mother washed dishes for a living. Both were products of the Great Depression.
“We didn’t know we were poor,” Merrell said. “Our life was basically what we made of it.”
Merrell made the most of it, going to work at 15, saving up enough money to buy his first car at age 17.
His family lived close enough to the University of Oklahoma that he could attend and avoid paying room and board. Still, he oftentimes held three jobs to pay for school.
“I knew that was the only way I could afford to go,” he said. “I take a great deal of pride in that I did it myself.”
While in college, Merrell met his wife Cathy. Despite the fact that she worked at a bank, she would come to the grocery store he worked at to cash her checks, Merrell said.
“That was her way to stay on my radar,” he said.
After graduating with a major in marketing and minors in finance and accounting in 1971, he applied to law school and was accepted. Instead, he accepted a job at the Daily Oklahoman working in the advertising department.
“At the time, I thought it was only going to be a year,” he said.
Fifteen years later, Merrell was still at the newspaper, rising to the second highest position in the classified department, when he was approached by a headhunter for Midwestern newspapers about a job at the Columbus Dispatch.
He accepted, becoming head of the classified department there.
“When you live in Oklahoma, you do not consider Ohio the Midwest,” he said.
In 2002, he left The Dispatch to become the publisher of a group of newspapers in southeastern Ohio, including the Athens Messenger. Five years later, he was hired to run of chain of newspapers that included The Delaware Gazette and The Sunbury News.
In an ownership shakeup, he was let go in 2011.
“It was ultimately clear that they would be bringing in their person,” he said.
It was around the time of his departure from the Gazette that he seriously began to contemplate his first foray into electoral politics. About a year later, after several conversations with family and friends, he decided to throw his hat in the ring.
He won a hard fought three-way Republican primary in March to gain his parties nomination by going back to his roots.
During the campaign, he knocked on more than 5,000 doors and made about 2,000 phone calls.
“I had to make sure I did everything correctly,” he said. “To me, it was my job.”
He cruised to victory in the November general election and will replace Delaware County Commissioner Tommy Thompson next month.
Despite his hardscrabble upbringing, Merrell has a soft side. Merrell and his wife have adopted two children. Another child was born biologically.
“It allowed us to make a difference in somebody’s life,” he said.
Merrell said his soft side often shows when particularly poignant movies move him to tears, which his oldest son finds funny.
“My son likes to catch me in those moments and make fun of me,” he said.
But as he prepares to take a seat on the board of commissioners, Merrell is focused on serious business.
“It’s extremely important to me that I do this job the right way,” he said. “I’ll do what I think is in the best interest of this county.”