Chase Gentry 'tenacious' and embraced
Last updated 9/4/2021 at 4:18pm
CLOVIS — Chase Gentry never stopped working, whether it was providing for a small family, putting himself through college or putting eastern New Mexico on the economic map. But those who knew him best said he usually found a way to be your friend above all.
The longtime executive director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation left plenty of signs of his work, from the downtown shops in Portales to the Southwest Cheese plant on the edge of Curry County to the windmills that populate the farmlands of Grady.
Gentry, 53, died Tuesday in Albuquerque from complications related to COVID-19. Wednesday would have been the first day of his 20th year as the CIDC executive director.
A celebration of life is scheduled at the Clovis Civic Center for 2 p.m. Tuesday, exactly one week after his passing in Albuquerque.
While Gentry himself shied away from the spotlight and didn’t have a social media account, a post from his mother Nancy Gentry announcing his passing drew about 800 comments from friends and well-wishers.
A career in economic development was fostered from an early age, as Gentry ran concessions stands at age 12 before he worked in later years for Portales National Bank and on his own for 16 years as a disc jockey best known as “The Chaser.”
“We all worked more than one job,” Nancy Gentry told The News. “I worked at night. He’s been my best friend for a long time.”
Following his 1992 graduation from Eastern New Mexico University, Gentry applied for a receptionist position for Dallan Sanders at the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce. Seven years later, Gentry was both the chamber director and the economic development director.
“Dallan believed in Chase,” Nancy Gentry said. “He was his biggest mentor in the world. He gave him a lot of confidence to do all he had done.”
In 2002, Gentry made somewhat of a surprise leap to the CIDC, which was looking for a new executive director after Bob Duckworth parted ways. Ernie Kos, executive director for the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce, said she had a great working relationship with Gentry, to the point they co-hosted a radio show and each chipped in on a button-making machine that is still in use today. But she didn’t encourage Gentry to apply for the Clovis position because she figured she’d just be wasting a phone call.
“I didn’t think he’d ever leave Portales,” Kos said. “He knew everybody in town and everybody knew him. When he did apply, I will admit I was really happy about that.”
Kos said the two made a great team, with her selling Clovis and Gentry putting together financial incentive packages.
She wasn’t sure when it happened, but at some point it just became second nature that Chase was a family member. He’d be at every Kos family gathering, and even accompanied Kos to Hawaii after her mom died.
Kent Carruthers, former CIDC board president and a current executive board member, recalls Gentry coming in at just the right time. When the CIDC was first looking at luring Southwest Cheese to the area, Carruthers said the company was looking for an industrial revenue bond. Curry County had never done one and was, in Carruthers’ mind, overly cautious about it. Gentry turned to the city of Clovis, which had done IRBs before and could operate within 15 miles of its incorporated area.
“Chase was tenacious,” Carruthers said. “He understood industry, and when he knew a deal would work for Clovis or Curry County, he stayed on it.”
The cheese plant, since its original $198 million investment, has twice expanded and now employs more than 400.
Gentry also helped other entities with IRBs, including the village of Grady when it started to realize its wind farm potential. Carruthers said there’s a misconception of animosity with neighboring communities competing for industries, but it’s the CIDC’s view that any new business in a surrounding community benefits Clovis as well.
When he wasn’t traveling with Kos or at some work function, Gentry loved to get lost in a movie and a Lubbock trip to see multiple movies was a common occurrence. Gentry played a key role in convincing “Believe In Me” and “Hell or High Water” producers to use local shooting locations, and was always happy to let CIDC space become a temporary movie production office.
Gentry was well-regarded throughout the state, and twice won the Dallan Sanders Award as the state’s top economic director. He served on countless boards and committees and was recently appointed as a representative on the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee. Kos said he was excited to get that role, as it presented an opportunity to learn about a new industry.
Over his 19 years with the CIDC, he had numerous offers to take other jobs around the state. But those places weren’t home.
“He just didn’t want to leave,” Nancy Gentry said. “The Clovis people embraced him, and it’s been unbelievable.”
Carruthers said Gentry never mentioned anything of the sort, but it stood to reason there were many potential suitors and he was grateful they never succeeded.
Carruthers said the vacancy of the CIDC position is not a concern at this point, but that the board will probably take up the issue later this month.
“He’s going to be damn hard to replace, frankly,” Carruthers said.
Over the two weeks Gentry was in the hospital, Kos said chamber staff realized just how many small office tasks were “Chase things,” and noted that he took the lead on many office changes necessitated by the pandemic pushing business into virtual platforms.
“Needless to say,” Kos said. “I think he’s irreplaceable. It will take more than one person to fill the gap.”