LYMAN — It wasn’t unlike a lot of gatherings on Memorial Day weekend.
A group of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents ate a meal and then trekked to Lyman’s cemetery, which sits on a hill allowing a view that stretches from Loa to Bicknell.
However, for the Rippstein family, this year was unlike any they’ve had.
Generally Kirt Rippstein and his sisters, Teri Christensen and Kristy Ferguson, travel to the city of Torrance, California, to participate in a solemn observance — a tribute to officers of the city’s police department who have fallen while in the line of duty — including their father.
Due to the situation in the world with COVID-19, the annual officer memorial wasn’t hosted.
So instead, a family gathering was in Wayne County, where the grave of Gary Elton Rippstein was moved several years ago.
It was a winter night in 1968, that changed the course of a family forever.
Gary was gunned down Dec. 20, just days before Christmas.
“I don’t remember a lot,” said Kirt, who was four years old at the time and the eldest of the three siblings. Mostly his memories of his dad are just impressions, glimpses into the past that may have been mixed with family stories.
“I remember sitting on the porch and being sad and confused,” Kirt said. He said that might have been the day he learned of his father’s passing.
Gary was a 29-year-old police officer on the trail of a suspected aircraft thief. An Army veteran, Gary was also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which made him stand out a bit in California. His strong religious convictions led to him serving as the department’s chaplain.
According to news reports at the time, Gary and another officer tracked down a suspect to an apartment in Hermosa Beach to question him about the airplane theft. They entered an apartment and the suspect shot Gary. Gary’s partner returned fire — killing the suspect.
Some 30 hours later Gary also died.
“Family connections are so important,” Kirt said. He and his sisters shared messages about the father they never really got to know other than through stories and reputation.
The stories were uplifting, and the reputation was of a man who cared about making his community better and safer.
Kristy read a piece her father wrote as the Torrance chaplain, explaining how it spoke to the importance spirituality had in Gary’s life.
“I want to thank my mom and dad for helping us become the people we are,” Kristy said.
Marsha, Gary’s widow, was eventually remarried to Oscar Taylor, who had three children of his own. They had four more children together.
“We were the Brady Bunch,” Kirt said. They remained in a solid, loving family, now living Utah, but were not allowed to forget their dad.
“He was the first member of the church in our family,” Teri said. She told the story of how he converted. As a teenager Gary asked about the LDS faith and took it upon himself to learn about it and joined the church.
The church’s role remains a part of the Rippstein family’s life.
“We have a great progenitor,” Teri said. She said cards given to the family following Gary’s funeral detailed stories of his kindness, patience and willingness to serve others.
Gary was faithful, but also hardworking and a man of his word. He had just been hired on as a police officer when he was drafted in the U.S. Army. He was able to get a deferment so he could finish his probationary period with the department. Once that was done, he went into the Army — and made enough of an impression that he went from draftee to officer candidate school material.
Once his time in the Army was done, he returned to Torrance to work as a police officer. He also found time to earn a pilot’s license.
Kirt also completed a stint in the Army, and also works in law enforcement. He said he’s not sure if it was due to his father’s influence.
However, one thing he said he’d like his children, grandchildren and assorted nieces and nephews to think about is their grandpa Gary’s good example and living up to it.
“It’s up to each of us to be as good of people as we can be,” Kirt said.