Mall Shooting Takes One Of Industry’s Own

Mall Shooting Takes One Of Industry’s Own

A veteran ag-chem salesman was killled in last week’s mall shooting in Omaha, NE.

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Gary Scharf, 48, was the second of eight victims killed in a random shooting Wednesday, Dec. 5, at a Von Maur store in Westroads Mall, Omaha, NE. He had stopped at the mall to buy two shirts for a business trip to Las Vegas.

His funeral was held Monday at the United Methodist Church in Curtis, NE, not far from the ranch where he grew up. Around 350 mourners overflowed the church, so some listened to an audio of the service in a nearby movie theatre.

Edmond Cho, chief representative at the U.S. office of LG Life Sciences and Scharf’s boss, attended the funeral service. “According to another survivor, Gary helped a lady get off the escalator and tried to find out who was shooting while climbing the escalator. At that time, he was shot,” relates Cho. “The lady thanked Gary’s brother, Bob, because Gary saved her life.”

Jim Shelton of Landmark Services Cooperative, Juda, WI, gave one of the eulogies at the service, telling the crowd about their 25-year friendship that began as a business relationship, including the snowmobiling, motorcycling, and boating trips which included Shelton’s sons. “Gary was always enthusiastic and ready to tackle new tasks, or adventures,” he said. “Gary’s work ethic was above and beyond. Even when we were on vacation together, he was always working for the company. His commitment to the ag industry and people far exceeds many others I have worked with.”

On the day he was killed, Scharf was to fly to Las Vegas to see Shelton receive the 2007 Ag Retailer of the Year award for his company at the Agricultural Retailers Association annual meeting.

“We will all miss Gary, and his smiling face,” says Shelton. “I lost one of my best friends who was as much a brother as he was a friend.

Scharf began his 26-year ag-chem sales career at Ciba-Geigy and was with the company through its evolution into Ciba, Novartis, and finally Syngenta. In 2004, he became an area sales manager for Makhteshim Agan of North America (MANA) and was later promoted to national sales manager. At the time of his death, he was the national sales manager for LG Life Sciences, Ltd., which provided him with the opportunity to move back to Lincoln, NE.

Some of the key items listed on his professional resume include growing MANA’s sales from $60 million to record high $103 million in two years, introducing Callisto herbicide for Syngenta and eight new Syngenta products that soon became number one in their markets, and being a company leader many times in sales. He won numerous professional honors and awards, and was very active in FFA and other community activities. He also provided industry insights at various times for CropLife® magazine, including the November 2004 cover story about MANA.

Cho will initially handle Scharf’s business accounts. “He was the greatest salesperson I ever met,” says Cho. “He was very active and energetic all the time. He traveled all around the country and met so many people. He was very positive and gentle.”

Cho shares these stories: “He also was very open-minded, accepting all kinds of different cultures. When he was at MANA, he learned about the Hebrew language to instill good will in the company and after he joined LG Life Sciences, he learned the Korean language at a small church in Lincoln with Korean-American kids (ranging in age from 6 to 10). The teacher told the kids to call him Mr. Scharf, but they believed Big Gary was their good friend and called him Gary. Think about how odd it must have seemed to have him studying among very small kids! But he didn’t care about that. He had the enthusiasm to study what he was curious about and work very hard.”

Others in the industry also talked about how highly regarded he was — both professionally and personally.

“Gary was passionate about everything he did — work, play, and family,” says John Rabby, MANA’s president and CEO. “He loved this industry and believed in its future. He was smart, witty, and caring about his customers and peers alike. He loved life and lived it to the fullest. This industry will miss Gary. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones.”

“I spoke to Gary the day before he died and he was pleased that he spent some time with his college-age son, Steven, and they both enjoyed their time together and Steven even posed for a formal shot with Gary,” says Maria Mirsky of Mirsky Assoc., Inc. (see photo above). “The parents of college-age children everywhere will appreciate that. Gary will live on in his son Steven — who has his charm, his gift of gab, his ‘just challenge me, I’ll debate you’ smirk, and his always helpful, ever-positive attitude.”

“I met Gary while at an SCPA (Southern Crop Production Association) annual meeting a couple of years ag,” recalls Bonnie McCarvel, executive director of the Mid America CropLife Association (MACA). “We sat with him for dinner and a couple of others from MANA. Gary was very easy to talk with and he made me feel welcome. I saw him a few times after that and he always said hello and had a smile on his face. The crop protection industry has lost a good person.”

Rex Martin, currently state government relations manager for Syngenta, was hired 18 years ago by Scharf, then-Ciba-Geigy’s Arkansas district manager. “Gary was one of those guys that was very hard working, always was positive,and had a smile on his face,” Martin relates. “As he moved around the company and moved to other companies, we kept up, we were friends, and it was just really shocking that this happened, just really shocking. He was a good guy to work with, and I know that he was grateful to have the opportunity to move back to Nebraska and get closer to home. The times I talked to him, he was very happy about living in Lincoln. He cared a lot about his son and his stepkids; that was one of the big reasons he wanted to be close there in Nebraska.”

“Gary Scharf was a true professional and had a work ethic that impressed customers, suppliers, and co-workers,” recalls Don Bradley, Murray Equipment’s director of marketing and sales. “He loved challenges and always found a way to move ahead in tough situations. He will always be remembered by those of us in the industry that worked with him for his high level of personal integrity.”

“I enjoyed working with Gary and found him to be a true professional whom I could always rely on,” says Ephi Gur, MANA’s vice president, Regulatory and Scientific Affairs. “He always found time to discuss any issue and always did so in good nature and with a smile. He was great to work with — our industry has lost a great guy who was not just a pro but a wonderful human being as well.”

Sharf’s death is a huge loss on the business side also for LG Life Sciences. “I don’t know how to fill the gap his death leaves. He was the most important person in our ag business,” says Cho.

He is survived by his son, Steve, his parents, a sister, two brothers, and his dog, Red. He was preceded in death by his son, Scott and both sets of grandparents. Online condolences may be left for the family at www.blasestrauser.com. Click here for an online account of the funeral service.