The last surviving member of the very first line of Kilgore College Rangerettes has died. Virginia “Gay” Grey Law Culp, of Henderson, died in her sleep on Tuesday at the age of 94 while at home with family members.
In a statement posted to social media on Tuesday, Virginia's son Randy described how his mother was born in Louisiana in 1923 and grew up in Kilgore during the East Texas oil boom. In the post, Randy wrote how his mother participated in the very first performance of the Rangerettes at a football game on September 12, 1940.
Kilgore mayor Ronnie Spradlin met Culp on several occasions, including at derrick lighting ceremonies and other local events. He believes the passing of the last member of the original 'Rette line is a major moment for the Kilgore community.
“It's the end of an era,” Spradlin said.
Filmmaker Chip Hale, director of Rangerette documentary “Sweethearts of the Gridiron,” said working with Culp was integral to the success of his film. When making the film, Hale met with members of the Rangerette's first line for insight into a time when 'Rette events were not always captured on film.
“We got them together in Downtown D'lites and had them reminisce,” Hale said. Not only were they able to recall their time with the Rangerettes but they could do so rather vividly. Their recollections of the first game allowed us as filmmakers to recreate the game. We shot it in 8mm in black and white and had locals come out and dress as if they were in the '40s. They were able to remember the song “I'll Be By In A Taxi To Get You Honey” that they performed to.”
Hale said Culp and other Rangerettes from the original line knew they were part of something special, even if they didn't know at first what its impact would be.
“They were aware of their contribution in a way that was part of the organization of the Rangerettes. They were always just believing in something but none of them had an idea of how long that would last,” Hale said. “To be able to capture that on video, I'm lucky as a filmmaker.”
Hale explained making the documentary taught him to save all the Rangerette footage he could on hard drives in order to pass the images on one day. Footage of Culp reminiscing about her time with the 'Rettes will help preserve those memories, he said.
“I hope that in 25 or 30 years, I can pass that on to someone else. Knowing we have Gay Culp on there, that's very fulfilling as a documentary filmmaker.”
Besides being important to the creation of his documentary, Hale knew Culp as a kind and caring woman who was dedicated to the organization she helped create.
“Personally, she was a lovely human being. So sweet and kind, full of life. I think in the last three to five years, Gay has been extremely active at many Rangerette events like Revels and the Christmas show. She's been quite the icon for the Rangerettes. I think what Gay has done is start a trend. She's a trailblazer.”
Kilgore College released a statement on Wednesday about Culp's passing.
“Kilgore College is saddened to learn of the passing of Virginia "Gay" Grey Law Culp. As a member of the inaugural Rangerette line, she has a true place in the history of the beginning of the dance/drill team movement. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family as they mourn her loss,” the statement read.
Rader Funeral Home of Kilgore has posted a statement about Culp on their website announcing upcoming funeral services but full details are pending the family's approval.