Take a good look at the old lead- and zinc-mining town of Picher, Okla., because in a year or two it'll be history: The community is so thoroughly contaminated that the Environmental Protection Agency is closing it down. Aside from 1,000 inhabitants awaiting federal buyouts, about all that remain are a funeral home, a thrift shop, a bank—and Gary Linderman's Ole Miners Pharmacy. Memo to EPA: You may have to drag the druggist out of there, because he's vowing to stay till the bitter end—which is why folks call him Lights Out Linderman.

"We don't know how long we'll even have gas, water and electricity," he says. "But I'll be the last to go. My customers depend on me."

Many have respiratory and other problems possibly linked to their toxic environment. For them Linderman, 52, is a one-man prescription service. He often delivers medications in his Jeep to patrons too old or ill to make the 15-minute drive across the Kansas state line to the next-nearest drugstore. When customers can't pay, Linderman accepts IOUs.

"I don't know what we'd do without him," says 69-year-old Eva Klingman of Picher, who relies on Linderman to drop off her thyroid and cholesterol pills along with blood-pressure and breathing medication for her neighbor Albert Bench. "Sometimes," she adds, "he even brings us pop and candy." Linderman has worked in Picher since 1977, nearly a decade after large-scale mining stopped and 16 years before experts documented unacceptably high lead levels in the population. "Picher isn't a safe place to raise a family," says Dr. Robert Lynch, an environmental-health professor at Oklahoma University.

That's not a concern for bachelor Linderman. Besides, the avid bear hunter doesn't scare easy: "It's like a western. If you're determined, you'll be the last man standing."

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  • Contributors:
  • Pam Grout/Picher.