Gary Dodrill, Estrella DOM, gracefully steps into eternity

By Dave Arden | Jul 5, 2023

Gary and Leslie Dodrill

Gary Daniel Dodrill, director of missions for Estrella Baptist Association, peacefully passed away in his sleep on June 22, 2023. Gary had served the association for 28 years.

In 2018, the Arizona Baptist Historical Society gave Dodrill a certificate for 50 years of service to the state of Arizona.

Gary was born on June 18, 1946, in Perkins, Oklahoma. He married Leslie Cooper on July 10, 1959, and passed away a few weeks prior to his 59th wedding anniversary.

Dodrill served in the Marines as a Howitzer machine gunner for 13 months of combat in the Vietnam War. The tough experiences of war prepared him for a lifetime of leadership in challenging church and community settings.

“His time in the military was a tremendous time of spiritual growth,” Leslie said. “He had to become dependent completely upon God for life itself.

“One rainy night Gary knelt down on a small hill begging God to tell him what to do,” Leslie continued, “and he committed his life to do whatever God wanted for him. However, he told God he definitely did not want to become a preacher!”

As Gary departed his tour of duty and was flying out of Vietnam to Okinawa, his plane was the last to depart the airstrip before the base of Khe Sanh was taken under siege for the next 100 days.

Gary graduated with a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1977 and later received a doctor of ministry degree from Gateway

Seminary in 2008. His wife, Leslie, received her Ph.D. in higher education from the University of North Texas, and she taught at Gateway Seminary from 2002 to 2016.

“Gary Dodrill was the best encourager I have ever known,” said David Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists. “He encouraged every person he met, especially pastors and churches. He was a lifelong learner, and he always carried a book and a journal to write down what God was teaching him. He especially had a heart for ministering to those who had great challenges to overcome. We thank God for his decades of service in Arizona.”

Gary pastored four churches: First Southern Baptist Church of Winterhaven, California, which he planted; Longview Baptist Church and Eastside Baptist Church of Phoenix; and also Pinetop Baptist Church.

In 1986, the Dodrills adopted a 5-year-old son, Scott. The Lord used the relationship with Scott to give Gary a heart for special-needs children. Over the years, he developed a passion to serve and support Joni and Friends ministry.

On July 1, 1995, Gary accepted the call to serve as director of missions for Estrella Baptist Association. The vast territory of the association covers a wide spectrum of churches in both urban and rural areas, with unique cultures of people. While serving as director of mission, he excelled as an interim pastor, coming alongside churches to support them in their difficult times of transition.

Over the nearly three decades, Gary served in numerous transitional pastorate settings.

The Lord raised up key church planters in those early years, and Gary helped in the founding of influential churches South Peoria Baptist Church, Estrella Mountain Church in Goodyear, and Grand Community Baptist Church in Surprise.

James Hayes, retired pastor of South Peoria Baptist Church, said, “Gary had the gift of mercy and encouragement. Always encouraging pastors, I consider him a ‘spiritual entrepreneur.’ He had a gift for seeing possibilities for churches and pastors to be innovative in teaching others for Christ. Often saying, ‘Have you thought of this…?’ He was so willing to help. His enthusiasm and willingness to invest in others will be greatly missed.”

Gary led Estrella Baptist Association to creatively reach out on a wide variety of fronts. In addition to developing trainers for Joni and Friends, the association sponsored Women’s Day, a monthly Senior Adult Luncheon outreach, impactful annual meeting gatherings and spiritual growth conferences. The association also supported Pastor Jeremy Fass and the first Deaf Men’s Retreat, which brought in leaders from all over the country.

Without a doubt, Gary displayed a huge heart for pastors. More than just hosting a monthly pastors’ fellowship, Dodrill went the extra mile with much grace to take pastors and their wives to lunch. He was always willing to share a book or leadership advice or a scholarship to a conference.

“When a situation became tense, Gary could calm a tense situation and turn it around for good” said Twila Grantham, Estrella Association office coordinator. “Gary loved people genuinely and cared about their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. He loved to write a handwritten card to provide a personal touch.”

There was one Biblical passage especially important to Gary Dodrill:

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV).

Gary kept pushing forward with no plans to retire. He brushed off any questions about his retirement with a resolute desire to keep serving. Then, one day, his dream to enter into heaven became reality.

Dodrill’s heart was for unity, and he really enjoyed being Southern Baptist.

“Gary loved being Southern Baptist and stayed very loyal to the Arizona Southern Baptist family,” Leslie said. “He recognized we have issues, but he was committed to problem solving to make it better!”

The celebration of life for Gary Dodrill will be at South Peoria Baptist Church, July 8, at 10 a.m.

After serving in Arizona for 50 years in many unique platforms, Gary leaves behind a multitude of co-laborers, ministry partners, friends, former church members and recipients of his graceful touch.

Missions ministry is Arizona is tough on leaders and laypeople both. To those he served, Gary encouraged everyone to walk forthrightly forward on the journey.

Share This Article:

Recent Articles:

Arizona Mission Network churches prepare for VBS 2024

April 16, 2024

Three Arizona Mission Network churches hosted VBS conferences during March and April. A second Hispanic VBS Conference is scheduled for April 27 at Tierra Fertil in Yuma. Arizona Mission Network…

Arizona Southern Baptists rally to replace church plant’s stolen equipment

April 16, 2024

Orbit Church in Buckeye witnessed the support of Arizona Southern Baptists after their storage trailer was broken into. The young church plant was robbed of equipment valued at nearly $40,000.…

Diaspora Missions Collective introduced in Arizona

April 16, 2024

Pastors and ministry/missions leaders, as well as Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists staff, met on April 8 to discuss Arizona’s participation in the Diaspora Missions Collective. This movement is…