March 7, 1941
Gary Lee Sears, DVM, has devoted his life and vocation to providing veterinary care for many of the Sandhills ranchers in Western Nebraska. Called “Doc” Sears by the locals, he knows the ranches in a 100 mile radius that surround Hyannis probably better than most, having driven nearly every mile of pasture and roads that lead to them countless times over the past 50 years in his Ford truck with his custom-made medical supply cab on the back. He even got a pilot’s license and a small two-seater Piper Cub plane so that he could get to some of the more remote ranches and outposts more directly.
Born on his aunt’s kitchen table a few minutes after his twin sister, Doc Sears is a native of Lisco, Nebraska, who grew up on the Rush Creek Land and Livestock operation where his father, Billy Atkins Sears was a ranch foreman. Salutatorian of the 1959 class at Garden County High School in Oshkosh, Nebraska, he knew he wanted to be a large-animal veterinarian, and took his pre-med classes at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Doc completed veterinary medical school at Colorado State University and returned to the Sandhills to start the Hyannis Veterinary Service in 1967.
Always willing to go to the ranches on out-calls, Doc Sears built a more fully functioning clinic with an x-ray lab and other diagnosing equipment. He traded in the ironing table that he used the first year in Hyannis for a real examination table, much to his wife’s appreciation! Eventually, he hired technicians and other veterinarians and over 5 decades, Hyannis Vet Service has employed over 20 cow-savvy veterinary scientists. Semi-retiring in 2009, Doc left the practice in the hands of Bill Baker and Jon Werth, who he believes share his commitment to helping the ranchers keep their operations healthy.
Doc Sears’s diligent work ethic earned him the appreciation of many a Sandhills rancher.
Before the days of GPS, Doc could figure out how to meet a rancher at some blow-out where a heifer was having a problem delivering her calf–at 3 a.m. in the morning! This was not a once-in-a-while episode, but occurred several times a week during calving season. (His wife, Joan, remembers several nights when there were out-calls to five different ranches between 9pm and 5am.) Doc Sears’s commitment to being there for the ranchers that utilized his services didn’t stop when he brought on other veterinarians. He just got to sleep a little more every OTHER week!
Ranching is an isolated livelihood, and Doc Sears acted as a connecting rod for the Sandhllls. He shared with ranchers more efficient ways to work with hundreds of head of cattle who needed pregnancy/fertility tests or vaccines, how to navigate changing requirements for sales, understand inter and cross-breeding issues, and other business-specific logistics and advice. He also shared his wry wit and love of practical jokes!
As many a cowhand could attest, Doc possessed an unusually keen sense of predicting how the animal would react to the examinations and procedures he inflicted. While none of them, from cattle to dogs, liked what he was doing, he knew how to exhibit the right degree of power and coordination to get the task done efficiently. Doc doesn’t consider himself a cowboy, but as a cow-calf veterinarian he’s handled more cattle than most ranchers, and experienced about every interaction you’d ever have with a cow, as well as the other animals of the Sandhills.
Most of all, he deeply cared about the people in the cattle business. Being the only veterinarian in practical vicinity for tens of thousands of cows, Doc Sears always kept his prices fair and was willing to wait “til after market” for interest-free outstanding payments. He’d tape up the kid with the swollen ankle or the fawn that got its front legs caught in the hay mower. It bothered him to no end when small ranchers got squeezed out in corporate land grabs or couldn’t find the resources to keep their family ranch going.
Doc Sears has always advocated that living in the Sandhills is truly living in God’s country. Though free time was in short supply, Hyannis Vet Service was always a generous sponsor of countless local organizations, events and charities long after his two kids, Julie and Greg, were no longer in school groups and 4-H. He served as the President of the Grant County Fair Board (or “Shit Head” Prez, as he dubbed it due to his outhouse cleaning duty) for 12 years. In the mid-70’s and early 80’s, Doc was also known for his wicked fastball pitching with the local softball team.
With a gift for storytelling and memory for details, Doc Sears is one of the few living who can tell you the chronology of many of the ranches of Nebraska’s Panhandle — with insights like “the son of X rancher married the second oldest daughter of Y rancher and they moved over to the winter ranch north of Angora ‘til she took up with a bull rider and he remarried his first wife.” If you get the chance to play some cribbage, or even better yet, go fishing with Doc Sears, you’ll no doubt have some good laughs while getting the low-down on “a true rancher’s way of life.”
Doc Sears has provided invaluable support to the ranchers around Hyannis as a veterinarian for over 50 years. In a profession where few choose to work primarily with cattle, he returned to the Sandhills where he was born and raised and devoted his life to nurturing the keystone of his economy and heart of its community.