Cloud L. “Bud” Cray Jr., among the most celebrated leaders in commerce, public service and philanthropy in the history of Atchison, has died at age 96.

Cray’s daughter, Karen Seaberg, confirmed that he died at his home in Atchison at about 8 a.m. Wednesday. Among his many accomplishments, Cray served as an executive for decades with the Atchison grain refiner and distillery MGP Ingredients and held the offices of president, CEO and chairman of the board of directors for many years.

“He was a special man, one of a kind,” Seaberg said. “His legacy and his love will always be with MGP, Atchison and most importantly with his family.”

Travis Grossman, executive director of Theatre Atchison, who attributes much of his the theatre’s success to Cray’s leadership and financial contributions, said Cray considered Atchison part of his family.

“He served on the school board and so many other boards in service of that family over the years,” Grossman said. “He was able to put his positive spin on something so many times; his name alone could bring in that essential amount of support. When you had him on your side, he was wind in your sails and you knew that ship was on the right course. It’s just a remarkable thing. “

Stephen Minnis, president of Benedictine College, said Cray will go down in history as “Mr. Atchison.”

“He was a giant of a man,” Minnis said. “He was known for his optimism; that’s what I appreciated most about him.

“Ultimately, it was his passion for the city that really helped us out ... And so it was all about Atchison with him. I really appreciated that, because he really helped the college out so much. It was an honor to see him act over the long term as a champion for the college and for the city.”

Born on Nov. 7, 1922, a native of the Detroit area, Cray spent virtually his entire business career with MGP, overseeing the company’s growth from a single distillery operation to a multi-plant complex. Today, the company is one of the nation’s leading suppliers of refined goods for food product and liquor companies, while also producing a series of its own alcoholic beverages.

Bud’s father, Cloud L. Cray Sr., purchased the business, which has operated under several different names, in 1941 to produce industrial alcohol for use during World War II, according to MGP. Bud Cray earned a degree in chemical engineering in 1943 and went to work for the Dow Chemical Corp. before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He received an honorable discharge in 1946, briefly returning to Dow before succeeding his father as president of the company in 1962.

Throughout his career, Cray has been an active leader in various civic and professional pursuits, working on boards affiliated with Benedictine College, Atchison Public Schools USD 409, the Atchison Community Scholarship Program, the Santa Fe Depot, the Atchison Historical Society, the Atchison Chamber of Commerce and much more.

“When I came to Atchison, I had a chance to sit down with Bud as part of that process,” said MGP CEO Gus Griffin. “And, his warmth, his integrity and his genuineness just made an indelible impact on me. It was one of the critical things in my decisionmaking to come to MGP. I felt so comfortable with Bud in the culture he built, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

On Thursday, Seaberg, Cray’s daughter, spoke to Atchison Globe on the legacy of her father along with her sisters, Cathy Scroggs and Susan Robbins.

In terms of their business and community leadership in the city, guardians of its well being — and for their occasional hijinks — Seaberg said, her father can be thought of as one of Atchison’s “three musketeers,” the other two being Bob Berger of Berger Company and Dick Bruggen of Rockwell International, which is today part of Bradken Company.

“Honest to goodness, that’s how I feel about it,” Seaberg said. “There’s no way we would be where we are today without those three.”

Scroggs said Cray’s optimistic outlook on life and his emotional attachment to his community will be one of his lasting legacies.

“He was an openly emotional man,” she said. “It would not be surprising to see him in attendance at a performance or watching a movie with tears in his eyes. He developed a love for the opera while stationed in Italy; ever since, he would congratulate a performance with, ‘Bravo!’ ‘Bravo!’

He had a fondness for showering praise on everyone he met — ‘That was the best movie I’ve ever seen,’ or ‘This is the best breakfast I’ve ever had.’ And you’d have to remind him, ‘Dad, you said that yesterday at the other place.’”

For his part, Berger considers Cray one of the finest businessman he ever knew.

“His family, church, and community will miss Bud very much,” Berger said. “He was friendly with all of his employees at Midwest Grain. He always wanted to get to know his employees and their families.”

Berger’s son, Rick, current CEO of Berger Company, echoed his father’s appreciation for Cray’s indelible legacy.

“He was a longtime friend and mentor,” Rick Berger said. “Bud had the most positive attitude of anyone I have known. I often times wanted to view the world through his glasses, because he always found the good in people. We wouldn’t have half of the things that we have in Atchison if it were not for Bud Cray and his endless generosity.”

Both of Kansas’ U.S. senators, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, spoke on the passing of Cray.

“Bud and the entire Cray family are giants in Atchison and the surrounding region,” Moran said. “Known for his successful business, philanthropic activity in the community and support for public health and strong advocacy for the City of Atchison ... many have been positively impacted by Bud and the things he created.”

Roberts hailed Cray as “a leader in so many ways.”

“(Cray was a) visionary and successful business leader, a statewide leader in funding and promoting economic and consumer education,” Roberts said. “His daughter, Karen, is building on that family tradition. His wise counsel will be missed.”

The Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce expressed its sympathies to Cray’s families and lauded his unmatched accomplishments.

“We have lost an amazing and generous businessman who gave so much of himself to this community,” the chamber said in a Facebook post. “His legacy will live forever. Rest In Peace.”

The Atchison Family YMCA and Cray Community Center, which couldn’t have been renovated without Cray’s contributions and leadership, also memorialized Cray.

“We are forever grateful to Cloud L. “Bud” Cray, Jr. and his many contributions to the Y during his long life,” the YMCA said in a Facebook post. “He was a lifelong Y member, tireless volunteer and caring philanthropist.”

Atchison Hospital CEO John Jacobson thanked Cray for his service on the Atchison Hospital Board for many decades, the contribution of the Cray Manor Nursing Home and the establishment of the Cray Diabetes Self-Management Center at The University of Kansas Medical Center.

“Bud had a passion for the Atchison Hospital and the well-being of the community,” Jacobson said in a statement. “Thank you Bud for your passion and the positive differences you have made in our community. You will be missed by many.”

Cray’s daughter, Susan Robbins, summed up the impact of her father’s life.

“It’s for sure that he was a good man,” she said. “He was one of the good ones.”

Marcus Clem can be reached at marcus.clem@atchisonglobenow.com.

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