Jerald Benton McDonald, passed this Earth on November 17, 2015 from complications related to colon cancer at the age of 73.
Born in 1942, his middle name was supposed to be Benjamin, but the clerk confused his address on Benton Place as she typed his birth certificate. That’s the way it happened in 1942. Somebody mistyped your name and that was your name.
He was Jerry to his friends and Jaybee to his six older sisters and two older brothers. Jerald was the last of nine children, a late life “oops” who was adored and pampered by a cadre of grown women who knew a thing or two about raising kids. In the final year of his life he discovered that his one surviving sister, Mary Ellen, 89 of Topeka Kansas, may have been his actual mother. It turns out he was not nine of nine, but rather one of a kind. It answered a lot of nagging questions.
Jerald was a South St. Louis city boy, but he spent every summer of his childhood and adolescence working on the farm of Mary Ellen and her husband, Norman. The McDonalds and Shaws and Mooneys who originated in Salem Missouri and bounced back and forth to St. Louis were a colorful lot. Humor was a valued commodity at crowded gatherings, and Jerald became a skilled practitioner of quick comebacks and button-pushing.
As a teenager, Jerald returned home from a date and explained to his mother Grace that he had been invited to eat dinner at the girl’s house.
“Mom, you won’t believe it,” Jerald said. “There were seven of us at the table, but they only had six pork chops on the serving plate!”
“Oh no!” said Grace. “That’s terrible!”
“Not really,” said Jerald. “The two I ate were pretty good.”
Jerald recounted this story to explain the head-slapping that affected his hearing in later life.
There were many girlfriends, but only one true love. Jerald married Glenda Kay Halleman out of high school and joined the Air Force. A son, Scott Allen, was born soon thereafter and Jerald, Glenda, and baby Scott survived a meager existence of military housing allowance trailers for four years in glorious destinations like Murphysboro Tennessee. The three of them scraped by on unclaimed payphone change and smiles from hearing Mac Davis and Bobby Goldsboro’s “Watchin’ Scotty Grow“ in rotation on the radio. Jerald was always proud of his opportunity to serve his country. There has been a photo of the C-130 he serviced on his office wall as long as I can remember. Memorial Day and Veterans Day were always held in reverence.
After Jerald’s military service ended, he moved back to South City briefly before landing a job with Engel Equipment. He moved to a tiny suburban house in the middle of a cow pasture that would eventually become Hazelwood, Missouri.
Jerald always wanted a daughter and the new house had an unclaimed bedroom, so Jerald and Glenda made an ill-fated decision to expand their family and ended up with a son instead. Naming this son “Mulligan” was a bit too on-the-nose, so they compromised on Christopher Shawn. Although disappointed that Christopher was not a girl, Jerald took some solace later when he realized the daughter he never had and the second son that he did have threw a football with approximately the same level of acumen.
Jerald clawed his way up a career ladder, despite never having a college degree. First at Engel Equipment, then Ferguson Machine/Universal Match, and later Sankyo America.
Circa 1974, Jerald grew what the kids today call a “pornstache.” In the forty years since, Jerald shaved his pornstache from time-to-time, but he never looked right without it. He took Berlitz courses in Japanese language and customs before Japan became a manufacturing powerhouse, and it never stopped paying dividends to his career. It became his niche. He was the guy you assigned to shepherd projects for Japanese companies and customers.
Jerald learned to be an engineer without an engineering degree, learned to be a father without any real template for what a father should be, and he learned to fix things without having the money to hire jobs done. Jerald could fix anything but a broken heart. He owned two VW Beetles at the same time and pulled the engines out for repair with a casualness that other men display during a rummage through a snack drawer.
Jerald insisted that his sons memorize the poem The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service, and Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech.
Jerald had a heart too big for one man. I cannot count the times I saw him give money to beggars. In a different era, these men were called “bums.” Jerald the Father taught me to always have two dollars of “bum money” folded in my front pocket to give out, so we did not stop and open a wallet in an invitation to be mugged. There was an art to pressing “bum money” into man’s palm, looking him in the eye, and nodding; all while the feet never stopped moving forward.
While standing in line at the VW parts counter, the young marine in front of Jerald got a quote on the part he needed and cringed at the price. It was too much for the man’s military paycheck. Jerald hooked him at the elbow before he could walk away. Jerald bought the part for the man. Then they went into the parking lot of the VW dealership and Jerald installed the part on the marine’s engine. Then Jerald noticed that the man’s windshield wiper motor was failing. Since Jerald had an extra one, he had the marine follow him home where he repaired that as well.
That was Jerald.
He’d give you the shirt off his back, but first he’d sew some gussets into threadbare seams so you ended up with a better shirt than the one he took off.
That was my dad.
Jerald McDonald would have no use for your flowers or cards. But if you’d perform an act of kindness for a stranger, particularly a veteran, he’d be tickled pink.