By CALEB SLINKARD
Executive Director of the Hope Center of Greenville Jerry Speight has led a lifetime of service.
From his days in the Air Force, to his work with the needy in Hunt County, Jerry’s main goal is to give to those in need. This drive to serve was instilled in him from a young age by his grandfather, father, mother and uncles as he grew up on a 50—acre farm in the rural community of Scatterbranch, near Commerce, and has continued to motivate him to this day.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the work ethic established by my father has set a direction for me that is unchanged,” Jerry said.
His father was a unique individual by today’s standards, a man who labored from dawn until dusk with a limited amount of tools and machinery that he spent a tremendous amount of care keeping in good shape; a man who would drop what he was doing to complete the chores of a neighbor who was sick.
“Dad had a Model T Ford that he traded calves for,” Jerry said. “He walked from the Scatterbranch community to Greenville and drove it back.”
That was an 11-mile walk, by the way.
Jerry tells a story of when McCool’s Garage in Commerce burned down. Jerry’s dad had work done at the garage, but hadn’t paid Pete McCool yet because it was the off season, and farmers didn’t pay their bills until after the crops had been harvested and sold.
“When he heard that the garage had burned, my dad went to the bank, pulled out the money he owed, which he had kept an exact account of, and found Pete McCool. ‘This is what I owe you; I heard you needed it,’ my dad said to Pete,” Jerry said. “The ethics and integrity of that had a lifelong impact.”
But his father wasn’t his only role model. Jerry’s mother served the community all her life, a life that spanned almost a century.
“We lived on the Cotton Belt Railroad,” Jerry said. “I grew up with hobos. The word spread through the homeless community that you could get good care at my house. My mother never turned away any hobo. She would have them sit on the porch, she would fix food for them and she would send them off with food. If there was a shirt that she could sew or give them, she would do that.”
The impact of the service of his parents can directly be related to the joy Jerry has in serving the disadvantaged in Hunt County.
“I never knew anything else,” he said. “Dad would be so thrilled today, if he were alive, to be involved with the Hope Center.”
Jerry recognized the contrast between the efforts of his parents and the current popular culture of instant gratification.
“My dad and mom had a good name in the Scatterbranch community and in Commerce,” he said. “They paid the price of building relationships with people; it’s time—consuming, and it’s hard work. In our current culture, we want something done instantly.”
While service projects, including summer mission trips to other countries, can be beneficial, sometimes those efforts are made at the expense of local needs, according to Jerry.
“We will do a service project, and in some way for some people I think that relieves guilt for them not doing something they feel they should be doing,” he said. “We’ve walled off our lives, our cities, our neighborhoods; somehow we have gotten the idea that we’ll get out of our walls for two weeks. We’ll even go to a foreign country, we’ll serve and we’ll do great things; and that’s OK. That can do a lot of good. But what about the people in your neighborhood?”
Now in his 70s, having overcome heart surgery and currently healing from skin cancer surgery, many people would be enjoying a life of retirement on the golf course or cruising the Caribbean. But, for Jerry, service is a way to recharge, thanks to the support of his wife of more than 50 years, Brenda.
“Without Brenda’s support, I could not be refreshed,” he said. “That is number one. And I just have to pray that God gives me the strength to keep on. I can’t envision myself not having a life that’s relational. I was raised that way; it’s refreshing to me to find a need and to meet it.”
Jerry has built his own legacy of service in Greenville, and Hunt County is a much better place because of it.