Car club dedicates bench in memory of one of its founders


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At the corner of West Second and North Chestnut streets in downtown Seymour, Tom Gray was often seen with a classic vehicle.

Whether he was there during Scoop the Loop or gathered with fellow members of the Seymour Area Cruisers car club, Gray made a regular appearance.

On Dec. 30, 2019, at the age of 52, he died of esophageal cancer.

His memory, however, now will live on through a bench the car club recently dedicated at that corner.

Several club members and friends were there July 18 — some driving their own classic cars — to see the bench, which has a logo with an image of Gray’s 1947 Ford truck and the words “Tom Gray” and “Scoop” on the back of the seat.

“Everybody that was involved in getting this bench for Tom, this will be a remembrance for years to come,” said Steve Cox, president of the Seymour Area Cruisers. “We’ve lost a lot of good members. That’s just part of life. Let’s keep everything going, keep everything in our hearts and minds and thoughts. We’ll have to keep up the good work, keep Tom’s legacy going.”

Gray helped Erin Hays revive the Scoop the Loop tradition in 2011, bringing together former and current residents for a night of cruising around downtown and reminiscing about the past.

In 2014, Gray was among the 10 people who started Seymour Area Cruisers.

In 2016, he was president of the car club when members helped park vehicles for the inaugural Pre-Scoop Cruise-In and Car Show. Proceeds from that event went toward Fraternal Order of Police Donald M. Winn Lodge 108’s Cops and Kids program that provides Christmas gifts to children in need.

To date, that event has brought in more than $70,000, said FOP President C.J. Foster.

“A little over six years ago, I met with Tom and Keith (Cockerham) and we discussed the idea of a car show, and that was after we had lost quite a bit of grant money from a local business in town when they changed their criteria on getting the grant,” Foster said.

“Word got out to me that Tom and Keith wanted to talk, and we started this thing and started working on it, and it came to light,” he said. “It has bought a lot of Christmas presents for a lot of kids.”

When Foster heard about a bench being proposed in Gray’s memory, the FOP agreed to pay for it. The logo was designed by Seymour High School’s Owl Manufacturing, and the bench was made by Crane Hill Machine and Fabrication Inc.

“For the price of the bench, we couldn’t think of a better way to honor Tom’s legacy and what he did,” Foster said. “In the short five years that Tom and I pretty much lived daily for this car show and got to be pretty close about it, I couldn’t think of a better way to honor him than this bench. Hopefully, this thing will be here for years to come.”

Cockerham agreed.

“Tom has probably been one of the biggest advocates of the Seymour car culture for the last 10 years anyway, and it’s nice to honor him this way,” he said. “We talked about (the bench) before we ever got with C.J., and it just kind of went nowhere. This opportunity came along, and it worked out. It was a good marriage.”

Fellow club member Harold Ruddick also said the bench is well-deserved. His favorite memory of Gray is during the club’s trunk or treat event around Halloween at Tractor Supply Co.

“The first one we had, I don’t believe I saw Tom any happier,” Ruddick said. “There were like 600, 700 kids come through there, and he had a smile from ear to ear. It’s just the type of person he was. He was just an all-around good guy. Tom had a heart as big as all outdoors.”

Also attending July 18’s dedication was Gray’s sister, Jean Back of Seymour. She said she’s proud of what her brother accomplished in his life.

“A little boy from a poor family on West Fourth Street grew up with nothing, had nothing until he went to work to get it. It’s amazing,” she said.

Throughout his life, Gray became friends with race car drivers and country music singers and was even featured in John Mellencamp videos, Back said.

“Everywhere he went, he had friends,” she said. “If he didn’t know anybody, he would introduce himself and make friends.”

One of the last pictures of Gray was taken by Margaret Wilson as he drove through downtown Seymour and flashed the peace sign.

Every time she passes by the bench, Back said she will do that same gesture.

“Ah, it’s wonderful,” she said of the new bench.

David Shoemaker, a longtime friend of Gray, traveled from his home between Bloomington and Martinsville to attend July 18’s dedication.

He met Gray through racing BMX bikes, which Shoemaker still does today.

“I worked at Union Hardware as a bicycle mechanic when I was in junior high,” Shoemaker said. “Everybody came in there and bought their parts, and I built their bikes.”

He still has fond memories of hanging out with Gray in downtown Seymour.

“We cruised when we were kids,” Shoemaker said. “I’m not going to say we were juvenile delinquents. We weren’t. But we were known as pretty much car guys and street racers and all of that — always interested in the motorsports, anything that had motors that ran.”

He always knew Gray had his back, as they had a motto “Ride or die.”

“Tom was one of those guys if somebody was giving me crap, he would stand behind me and give it right back,” Shoemaker said.

Even though he no longer lives in Seymour, Shoemaker often has made it back to the city for car club events and Scoop the Loop just to see Gray.

“Back in the day, from the block or two past Larrison’s (Diner) all the way down past the post office, this was bumper to bumper,” he said. “It would take an hour to go through town. It was everything from hot rods to mom and dad’s sedans. We still have people come up to us that know our cars from back in those days.”

Seeing Gray in the hospital before his death was tough for Shoemaker.

“Standing there with two other guys, we’ve all been friends since we were kids, I lose it,” Shoemaker said. “Here’s a guy that’s lying there on his deathbed telling me, ‘It’s OK, Shoe. It’s going to be OK.’ He wasn’t worried about himself. He was ride or die, man. Ride or die. He was tough.”

Back also remembers her brother’s last words to her: “Don’t you cry for me. I’ve had a good life.”

Now, Gray will always be remembered when people see the bench in a spot where he lived the good life.

“I think it’s awesome,” Shoemaker said.

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