“I sincerely believe that Sandy was the reason I didn’t end up in prison,” states Jerry Beck. He and Sandy dated through high school (both DHS 1972 graduates) and married after Jerry returned home from a short stint at Texas A&I. Their first child, Don, was born in September of ’73, followed by Amy, Nickie and Willie Jo.
Jerry worked at Chiles-Wood Nursery for several years where he says he learned about plants and tree trimming from Mr. Hal Wood before taking a job in ’74 with HEB construction “to earn more money.” He shares an amusing anecdote: “While working on a job in San Antonio with Dale Stehle, we were eating lunch outside in the summer heat when a SAPD officer drove by in a police car. He had the windows rolled up and his arm on the back of the seat with the A/C on. I looked at Dale and told him ‘I can do that.’ That day, Dale and I both applied with SAPD. Dale went a little further and applied with DPS, which called him first, so he went that route.”
Jerry got his call from SAPD and started at the Academy in April of 1975, graduating in October of 1975 – a month after Amy was born. “I was assigned to work the South Side with an ‘old salt’ by the name of Wayne Harwell. I spent six weeks learning the ropes and was then turned loose on the world. One thing that he told me during that time was ‘Don’t ever let anyone lay their hands on you in anger,’ and it stuck. Little did I know that the short time spent with Wayne would influence my entire career in law enforcement.”
One piece of sage advice Jerry learned from Harwell was to get to know the people in the area he worked in and to learn to deal with the public with “leniency, compassion and respect while still doing the job that required you to fight, take family members away from the family unit, and put folks in jail.”
Jerry worked several areas in San Antonio before being assigned to the East Side. His brother, Tom (Wesley), worked the shift after he got off and “we earned a reputation as someone you should not run from. Tom was fast at short distances, and I could run for miles. We generally caught whoever was running from us.” Side note, in 1979, the two joined a track team formed by the Department and competed in the Police Olympics. Jerry even qualified for the National Police Olympics in New York and held the state record for several years in hurdling.
In the early 80’s, the Department formed a SWAT Team for each of the three shifts. Jerry joined the SWAT Team for his shift and was assigned as a sniper. He spent several years in that capacity while still working the streets. He recalls, “The highlight of that time on the SWAT Team was being assigned to President Carter’s Campaign visit while being posted on the top of the Alamo and I only had to watch one person through my scope.”
Joining the police force in 1975 was one turning point in Jerry’s life. Another happened in 1982. He elaborates, chillingly, “If you have never literally and physically had to fight for your life, believe me, it ain’t fun. And, there ain’t no rules. Thankfully, when I felt the cylinder turning on my revolver, I knew what was coming next and was able to jam my hand between the firing pin and the body of the revolver to prevent the other guy from shooting me, which he said he was going to do numerous times during our fight.”
As a result of that harrowing experience, Jerry quit the Department the next day “against my Captain’s suggestion that I take a week or two off and think about it.” But, at the age of 28, married, and with three children, he says he wanted to try something else. So, he went back into the nursery business and tree trimming. When that didn’t work out, in 1986, he rejoined the SAPD for the pay and retirement benefits.
Jerry began again on the South Side and Downtown area before going back to the East Side. About seven years later, wanting to do something else, he applied to be assigned to the Federal DEA Drug Task Force. He spent three years with DEA in an undercover capacity “and enjoyed every minute of it,” although he admits that there were many tense moments in that role. But there were interesting ones as well, like getting stopped at the Border Patrol Station and having a dog “hit” on his undercover vehicle, riding with armed drug dealers to a drop-off location, working wiretaps, working cases in Medina County, sitting in a motel room with a quarter of a million dollars….
But Jerry chooses to share an amusing anecdote: “One day when I was ‘doing a dope deal’ out by Callaghan and IH 10, my pretty little niece drove in front of my car and began waving at me, and waving, and waving. Finally, I gave her my best ‘get outta here’ look, and she realized what was happening and left. Luckily, the crook was more interested in counting his money than looking at that pretty little blonde. When I was finished, the guys working surveillance asked ‘Who was that blonde?’ So, I explained who she was.”
In 1999, Jerry’s assignment to DEA ended and he was assigned to the HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) Task Force and did the same type of work for about a year and a half. After that, he transferred to the Auto Theft Unit “mainly for the four-day work week.” Then, by June of 2006, Jerry decided that, after spending some 26 years with law enforcement, it was time to retire.
Jerry’s official retirement was on September 1, 2006. At his ceremony, such auspicious people were in attendance as Sandy, the Chief, a couple of Assistant Chiefs, a Councilman, an Association Rep and…Wayne Harwell. Jerry recalls, “Don’t know how he found out, but, he was there. After the Chief made his remarks, I asked him if I could say a few words. I thanked the suits and directed my comments to Wayne while telling them that Wayne Harwell taught me more about real police work than any of their Rules and Regulations or Policies and Procedures ever could.”
Poignantly, Jerry shares, “I had witnessed and worked around some of society’s worst. I had seen the effects of murder, rape, drug abuse, prostitution, and everything imaginable. I witnessed a man commit suicide and prevented another from carrying it out. More dead bodies than I can count. Children abandoned, abused, and even discarded because they were burdens to their parents. Several of my close friends/fellow officers were killed in the line of duty. I had a man try to kill me and I had to go to work every day with the thought that it could happen. I handled the death and destruction that drunk drivers dispense…elderly abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse. I took a 10-year-old to the Homicide office for killing a cab driver only to take him back home because he was too young to prosecute…and on and on.
“On the other hand, I had worked with some of the best people on the planet. Law enforcement officers became the people that I associated with the most. It is a true Brotherhood, and I am still in contact with most of them today. I enjoyed every minute of it – except that night in the middle of Spriggsdale Street on the East Side. But, I only miss breakfast with the guys….not the job. I talked to Wayne recently, and he said if he had to go back to being a policeman, he probably wouldn’t last till noon. I feel the same way.
Jerry had moved his family back to Devine in 1977 because “we wanted our kids to go to a small school and not one of those in San Antonio with as many students as some small towns entire population.” And Jerry thanks God for his wife who stood by him and put up with him “and the alcohol” and kept him grounded enough to get through his career “with a sense of purpose, my family, and my marriage intact.” And, he adds that he hasn’t had any alcohol in over 20 years, “…but, there was a lot of alcohol back then.”
Jerry became intrigued with city politics when he had an incident with his bulldog, a garbage truck, and a worker. His dog got quarantined; he requested to stop garbage pickup; he still got a bill; he paid the fee in 1,493 pennies – “the extra penny was ‘for their thoughts’.” And his next move was to run for office! He was thus elected into office in ’83. A couple of terms later, frustrated at the slow pace at which things were being done, he ran for and became Mayor. He lost his third term by two votes and got appointed to the Council seat vacated by the Mayor. He claims to his political achievements, “We got away from the tax-and-spend attitude and cut our budget to where we would have money for needed projects. We had a second Edwards Aquifer well dug. We got a red light put at 173 and 2200, and we poured sidewalks on the west side of 173. We still need them on the east side….”
Interestingly, Jerry ran for Mayor again in 2009 and worn, but he had to resign because he and Sandy had just finished building a new house outside of the county. So, in November of 2010, he was elected County Commissioner for Precinct 4. He says, “I have treated the position as a full-time job. I have a budget to operate within, and as long as I stay within its financial confines, I am alright. I don’t have to get the approval of a board, committee, or a Council to get things done.”
There are many other involvements of which Jerry is proud: He was President of the Devine Chamber of Commerce in the 80s when they built the Rodeo Arena out at the old Fish Hatchery; he coached and helped with Little League for 12 years; he and Sandy ran the Athletic Booster Club for DISD for seven years (three years after the last of their children graduated) which provided funding for several much-needed projects – high school baseball press box, high school softball press box, cover for tennis bleachers, uniforms, equipment, Sports Banquets, team meals, etc. – solely from the proceeds derived from concessions. He adds, “We started our first year with about $850 dollars in the bank and finished the year with over $13,000.”
Jerry and Sandy are also involved in their church, FBC Devine. Jerry shares, “Right after the incident on the East Side, I told myself that I needed to get my act together and make sure my kids grew up in a church where the Gospel is taught. When we were little, Grandma took us to the Assembly of God church here in Devine. As a teenager, I accepted Jesus and was baptized in the First Baptist Church in Devine, and since Sandy and I got married in that church, I kinda figured that was the place to go back to. As a result, all of my children have made Jesus Christ their personal Savior and have been baptized.” Jerry also helps in many ways, such as volunteering to take care of the tree problems during Mission Devine, while Sandy helps on committees and in the kitchen as needed. Jerry adds, whimsically, “I’m still trying to fix me and it ain’t easy. Just wish the Preacher would quit talking about me and pick on someone else….”
Known for his Harley enthusiasm, Jerry explains that his first was a 1948 Panhead which he bought at auction in the 90s. Spending too much time and money working on it – and with the rebuilt knee, getting harder and harder to kick start it – in 2001 he invested in a new 2001 Harley Davidson Deuce with a push button starter. He adds, “When I brought it home, Sandy asked ‘Whose is that? I told her, ‘Mine.’ Then she said ‘I get a new kitchen.’ She did, but it wasn’t until she got a new house.”
Jerry says he started riding to see the countryside, and Sandy does ride some, but, he says, “She prefers four wheels.” Jerry traveled to Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak with his brother, Tom, in 2005; traveled to Montana the next year to visit his grandfather’s grave in Choteau, a trip planned with Tom, but Tom passed away from a brain tumor, so Phillip Montgomery, Terry Snyder and Jerry made the trip and “took a remembrance of Tom with us.” Jerry has ridden to Long Island; to Las Vegas; to Washington DC; to New Orleans; to Colorado twice, North Carolina, and Arkansas with Sandy; to Montana; and everywhere in between. He has plans to make it to Maine before quitting. And upon his next retirement, Jerry plans to spend lots of time riding, and for months at a time. He adds, “If Sandy don’t wanna go, she can fly and meet me and do the tourist thing before flying back home. When I get tired of riding, I wanna be just like Cullen Whitney.”
Jerry and Sandy, who was a teacher’s aide with DISD for 19 years, have been married almost 45 years, and they have stayed closely involved in their children’s lives. Don is now an Assistant Superintendent in the Channelview ISD; Amy works in Castroville; Nickie is a teacher at Devine ISD; and Willie Jo is teaching and coaching at Tex Hill Middle School in San Antonio. All graduated from Devine High School, and they all participated in athletics. “They have produced 12 grandchildren for us, and if Willie Jo ever has one, it will be number 13.”
With a dry sense of humor, an attitude of risk-taking, and a clear love of his fellow man, Jerry says he has thoroughly enjoyed his life. He likes to say, “If it ain’t fun, I ain’t doin it. I wanna be able to sit on the back porch in my rocking chair and say ‘I did that’ instead of saying ‘damn, I wish I woulda.’….”