Detail.

— Dawn Dillard is a proud East Texas gal who loves all things southern especially cooking, music and family. She can be reached via email at DLDplays88@aol.com.

Thank you for letting me use my column a few times this year (2021) to write “Happy Birthday” columns to my family. You’ve gotten to know Fancy and Ryker a bit better through their birthday columns and today, April 22, is Jerry’s birthday. Happy Birthday!

Jerry and I met the summer between our junior and senior year; I was in high school; he was in college. He didn’t know that I was that much “younger” than he was until our first date. Our first date, by the way, was a church league softball game and McDonald’s. Magical! We were talking and getting to know each other and he asked “so, what are your plans for the summer?” I replied “Going to cheerleading camp next week.” He looked at me and asked, “who do you cheer for?” “Elysian Fields!” I proudly exclaimed. I thought he was going to hyperventilate. “Wait! You’re in high school? How old are you?” Thus was the beginning of what will be 41 years of marriage this summer (43 years together total).

By the way, before I brag too much let me tell you that Jerry is the middle son of Jack and Burniece Dillard. I always tell everyone I married the best Dillard son...sorry Jack and Jim!

Jerry started teaching ag at Hallsville the summer before we married. It was his dream job and stayed that way the entire 37 years he taught; all at Hallsville. If ever there was an example of a teacher being more than a teacher, it’s Jerry Dillard.

When kids needed help with their animal project, Jerry was there. When they needed a surrogate father, Jerry was there. When they wanted to come to church but lived so far out they didn’t have a way to get there, Jerry would give them the keys to his truck on Saturday evening and tell them he’d get his truck back Sunday at church...and he did.

He’s driven practically all night after football games to get kids to a judging contest the next day. He’s slept in the ag truck more times than you can imagine — either waiting for a pig breeder to meet him at 8 a.m. in West Texas or waiting in line at Houston Livestock Show at 3 a.m. for check-in that day.

He’s cleaned more pens at the ag farm than a work crew of folks could clean in a year; not just his kids pens, but ag kids pens and, that’s the thing about Jerry...we had three kids growing up in the FFA program but all of the kids in FFA were Jerry’s kids!

We’ve had students stay up all night at our house working on record books (Jerry would be running tapes and I would be typing; this was before online record books.) He’s hauled kids on Saturday’s to jackpot shows. He’s missed more spring breaks than he’s had off because of helping kids; all because that’s who he is.

If you looked in the dictionary under “selfless”, the name Jerry Dillard would be there. A few years ago, Jerry walked in the house in December and said “I think I’m going to retire at the end of this year.” I laughed and said “Yeah, right!”. He was serious. He didn’t know why God was telling him to retire; he still loved his job, loved his fellow teachers, but he just felt like it was time for him to retire and so he did.

A few months after he retired, Jerry’s mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Jerry trusted what God was telling him and at that point, he now knew why he was to retire. He got to spend time with his mom before she passed away and he was able to help my folks (and still does) with things that needed to get done in Bethany.

Every time we go out to eat, go run errands, etc., inevitably someone walks up to Jerry and says “Hey Mr. Dillard! Remember me?” He’s gotten to the point where sometimes he has to say “to be honest, I really can’t recall right now.” They are always quick to tell him he was their ag teacher and then the conversation always ends with something like “I just wanted to say hello and tell you I sure am glad I had you as a teacher. You made a difference in my life.”

Jerry substitutes quite a bit now. He can’t seem to stay away from the classroom, but, if truth is to be told, I don’t think it’s the classroom he can’t stay away from...it’s the kids. So, today, April 22, if you know Jerry, if you had him in class, take a moment, smile, and send him birthday wishes in your thoughts. You’re one in a million, Jerry Dillard!!

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— Dawn Dillard is a proud East Texas gal who loves all things southern especially cooking, music and family. She can be reached via email at DLDplays88@aol.com.