He might be nearly 85 years old, but Jerrell Isbell has a very specific, very important job that he’s been working on.
“I am in the process of completely spoiling my great-grandson,” he says with as close to a straight face as he can manage. “He’ll be 3 in May and I think I’ll have him completely spoiled by then; nobody can stand him but me.”
This job has a considerably better upside and a lot less stress than what Isbell did before retirement. He spent 40 years working for the Department of Public Safety as a state trooper.
Isbell was born in Hockley County, out in the Texas panhandle one square away from New Mexico. Hockley County is an area of 909 square miles with a population of 22,000 people. A bit different from his current home in Keller, where twice is many people occupy just 18 square miles.
In the 1930s, Isbell’s father was a cowboy, but his profession went extinct when President Roosevelt passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, forcing farmers to sell excess livestock, namely cows and pigs, to the government. All of the “excess” were then killed and buried, forcing Isbell’s family to move twice as his father looked for work.
Isbell graduated high school in Wolfforth, near Lubbock, and was drafted into the Army and sent to the Korean War. When he returned, he headed for Austin to join the DPS as a highway patrolman, and was assigned to El Paso.
It might have seemed like the middle of nowhere to some - located all the way out on Interstate 10, a 9-hour drive from Dallas and 10-½ hours from Houston - but it quickly became home for Isbell and his wife, who lived there for 40 years.
Being in law enforcement had its ups and downs, and plenty of crazy stories that are unfit for print in this publication. But Isbell said he kept one lesson in his pocket the whole time, and it’s one he wishes law officers today would be more aware of.
“I learned early in life that when you’re dealing with people in the public, you’ll meet a lot of nice people and meet a lot of people who are just taking up space,” Isbell said. “We want to remember the nice ones and forget the others, otherwise you’ll adopt the attitude that it’s the world against us. That’s why we have a lot of policemen today who shouldn’t be policemen. They think it’s them against everyone else.”
In 1997, Isbell retired, and he and his wife moved to a retirement community in San Angelo. They had just celebrated 17 years there when Isbell’s wife passed on, an event he recalls with some heartbreaking humor.
“I haven’t forgiven my wife for dying on me,” Isbell says. “Every plan we made about our later years had me dying first; then she went and died first and left me with all those plans changed.”
Despite vehement protests from his daughter and granddaughter, Isbell lived alone at the community in San Angelo for another year, but when he had surgery on his carotid artery, the hospital staff wouldn’t let him go home without someone to care for him.
“I had to call my daughter from the hospital, and she said, ‘That’s it! You’re moving to the DFW metroplex!” Isbell recalls. “She said you can come down here and decide on a place or I’ll decide for you, so I thought I’d better come down and decide on a place!”
In the eight months since, Isbell has really enjoyed his new digs, with one small problem which he blames squarely on the management.
“I’m basically very happy here, but my one problem with the management is that everytime I go down to eat something, they have all of my favorite foods here and I end up making a pig of myself and having to fight against my belt buckle,” he joked.
Isbell refers to himself as someone who has tried every hobby under the sun, from stained glass to woodworking. He hasn’t let his current situation keep him from expanding his horizons.
“Now I’m into needlework,” He says. “We have a group that meets every Thursday and makes stuff that they give to nursing homes.”
He also has great access to his family.
“It was a culture shock moving to Dallas, to put it mildly, but the kids have helped a lot,” he says. “I love living here, I get to see my grandchildren 2-3 times a week, plus my great grandchild. Things are going really good."