Going For The Grey

Couple carries passion for Western author across U.S.

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Conrad and Bev Okerwall of Payson got away from the dry heat of Arizona last month and went to a place where another adventurer, a hero of the West and part-time resident of the Rim country, used to go to fish -- Grants Pass, Oregon.

The Okerwalls were two of about 100 members of the Zane Grey West Society attending the group's 17th annual convention at the Riverside Convention Center on the Rogue River.

It was the seventh convention they had attended. "It's a different place every time," said Conrad Okerwall. "The first one was in 1983 at Joe Wheeler's house in Keene, Texas."

Okerwall explained that Wheeler, along with G.M. Farley, started the society, which now includes 325 members from all over the world.

"And it promotes Zane Grey," he said. "We donate Zane Grey books to libraries. Anyone who's a member reads and collects Zane Grey books."

There are about 10 members in Arizona, and like the Old West that Grey wrote about, the group is "pretty much unstructured," Okerwall said. There's an annual convention in June, and in 1985 and 1995, the event was held in Payson.

"Hopefully, when they get the (Zane Grey) cabin built at the museum, it'll be here again," said Bev Okerwall, who shares her husband's passion for the West and its heritage. Conrad Okerwall is a Western artist who displays his Western landscapes and portraits of Zane Grey at Granny's Attic in Payson. Bev Okerwall has a business at Granny's Attic selling Zane Grey's books.

Although most of the Zane Grey West conventions are held in the West, where the author, filmmaker and avid fisherman had numerous cabins and favorite spots, a few have been held in the East.

The Okerwalls attended one convention at Zane Grey's birthplace in Zanesville, Ohio, named for the author's grandfather, Ebenezer Zane.

The conventions run four days and include business meetings, speakers and one group outing. "What we did this time is take out jet boats on the Rogue River," Bev Okerwall said.

She said that the river was a favorite fishing spot of Zane Grey, and that his cabin, Winkle Bar, still sits on the Rogue River. It was a place where Grey took his youngest son, Loren, fishing.

Loren Grey, who runs the family business and is the family historian, attended the convention, as did Western movie actor George Montgomery, who starred in a number of Zane Grey films, some of which were produced in the Rim country.

People from as far away as England and Japan attended the conference this year, Bev Okerwall said. "His books have been printed in many languages, including Japanese, and we do have two members from New Zealand and one from England."

Conrad Okerwall brought a painting he did of Zane Grey to the convention and auctioned it off, and there was also an auction of Zane Grey books and memorabilia. "Joe Wheeler always gives the keynote address," he said. "And another member always gives a slide show presentation. It's like a family -- everybody knows each other."

The group's president, Todd Newport, of Phoenix, in an interview with a reporter from the Grants Pass Daily Courier, said, "A lot of these people are just into the geography of Zane Grey, like reading a history book and wanting to go to these places."

Bev Okerwall said, "It's a fine group of people, all ages, but the main idea is to introduce young people. This guy helped open up the West -- he introduced people to the West and they came in hordes. Little did they know how tough it was until they got there."

In Grants Pass, the group donated books to the Josephine County Library.

Bev Okerwall said she hopes that once the Haught Cabin and the Zane Grey Cabin are restored in Payson, the hordes, at least those who love the legend and times of Zane Grey, will come back to Payson.

But next year, the convention will be held in Cody, Wyo. Zane Grey never had a cabin in Cody, but he knew the people who lived there and made the area famous, among them Buffalo Bill Cody.

It seems that wherever Zane Grey went, he made a name and a place for himself. Fortunately for the Okerwalls and other members of the Zane Grey West Society, there are many such places.

Information on the Zane Grey West Society can be obtained through the website of the group's official publication, The Zane Grey Review, at: http://www.zanegreysws.org.

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