RIO GRANDE — Pillars of the community are often defined as individuals who are so intrinsic to the communal fabric of a region’s population that it is difficult to imagine those individuals not being there to support the people within them.
When a pillar is removed, it can outright rock a region. However, such people build legacies to continue carrying on the vision that person held in life, long after they are gone.
Many people in Gallia County and beyond regarded George “Ray” McKinniss, 61, of Rio Grande, as that person. McKinniss passed away Dec. 29 after battling cancer.
In 1980, McKinniss joined Bob Evans Farms Inc. He served in a variety of capacities before becoming the Rio Grande farm manager in 1995.
McKinniss was born May 25, 1954, in Athens, the son of George and Barbara McKinniss. He married Terri Hilyard on Dec. 19, 1976, in Wellston. They had three married sons, Heath and Melissa McKinniss, Justin and Brieanne McKinniss, and Travis and Kaley McKinniss.
The late McKinniss graduated high school in Wellston, where his parents owned the Wellston Telegram and Telegram Printers. He graduated from Rio Grande College in 1976 and continued to work there for the following four years in the admissions office and later as director of alumni.
McKinniss was chiefly known right up to his passing as the farm manager of the Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande. Many people knew him through a variety of volunteer activities in the area.
McKinniss was also known at the state level. He served on the Ohio Travel Association and the Appalachian Country Board. For roughly 30 years, he was part of the Heartland Travel Showcase.
McKinniss served as a past Gallia County Chamber of Commerce president. During last year’s Gallia County Chamber of Commerce Meeting and Awards Banquet, he received the Bud and Donna McGhee Community Service Award, the chamber’s most prestigious laurel that is kept secret each year until the night of the banquet.
He served as an Eagle Scout as well as a leader and volunteer of numerous boards and committees throughout his life.
According to Marianne Campbell with the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce, McKinniss served as chairman and founding member of the Gallia County Ohio Chautauqua Committee and was credited with making Gallipolis a host city for Chautauqua events in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and again in 2016.
According to colleague Dave Smalley, McKinniss often assisted with the Rio Grande Memorial Association in its hosting of the village’s annual bean dinner. Smalley credited McKinniss in helping provide materials, advice and other resources to make the bean dinner what it is today. Smalley says Bob Evans Farms have been integral to the bean dinner’s survival since 1971.
Smalley personally credited McKinniss as being the reason he settled in Rio Grande when he arrived at the university as a student athlete.
“Ray has been a driving force behind what we (Rio Grande Memorial Association) do,” Smalley said. “He understood the history and its connection with the area.”
“The loss of Ray is a huge tragedy for this area,” Campbell said. “Gallia County will sorely miss him. The integrity of that man’s dedication to his family and community service is staggering.”
According to Jim Noe, Bob Evans Farms area director, it was “on the Bob Evans Farm that Ray found his true passion and made the farm what it is today. Ray led the farm team with dedication and compassion for over 20 years. He loved bringing people to the farm and recalling the history. He was just a great storyteller. Ray was passionate about bringing people to our area.”
According to close friend Bob Hood, McKinniss never wrote off an idea. He was always considering new ways to go about a project or how to make one previously suggested better. He was known to assist the Red Dot campaign involved with area schools.
Hood said that despite many activities, being a fan of NASCAR and a lifetime reader, McKinniss always managed to have time for others around him
“There was never a time where Ray said, ‘You’ve got to hurry, I’ve got something else to do,’” Hood said. “He had time for you and he had time for everybody. That would be my biggest memory (of Ray). He had time to sit down if you had something that was bothering you. If you wanted to talk about something, he would always say, ‘Come on out, let’s talk.’ Even during the farm festival, his busiest time, he would always make time to stop for people that would come up and talk to him. He was hugging people and shaking hands with people. It didn’t matter about his schedule, your schedule was the most important to him.”
Perhaps more importantly, though, Hood said McKinniss was a devoted father and grandfather. He was known to often be involved with his children’s sports programs. Hood said that while many people can be remembered for their activities and interests, McKinniss should be remembered as a family man despite being an iconic figure with Bob Evans Farms.
“Everything he did, he did for his family first,” Hood said.
Dean Wright can be reached (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.
Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.