Former CHP officer brings his own special 'friendship' to Lemoore High School

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Jerry Pierce lectures to his Public Safety class at Lemoore High School.
Jerry Pierce lectures to his Public Safety class at Lemoore High School.

He was a 30-year member of the California Highway Patrol and an effective public spokesperson for law enforcement. He was – and is – a good father, an advocate for young people, a respected teacher, and now, as of October 21, will be considered for the rest of his life, and beyond, as a very special “Friend” of the Lemoore Union High School Foundation for Educational Excellence.

Ray Madrigal (left), a former CHP partner of Jerry Pierce, and a Lemoore City Councilman, has a chat with Pierce at Starbucks recently.
Ray Madrigal (left), a former CHP partner of Jerry Pierce, and a Lemoore City Councilman, has a chat with Pierce at Starbucks recently.

It’s on that date that longtime CHP officer Jerry Pierce, 57, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as the latest recipient of the “Gary Sedgwick Award,” an honor given each year to a man or woman, who despite not having graduated from Lemoore High School, has in fact been an instrumental part of its success.

The Hall of Fame Dinner will be held in the Lemoore Civic Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 21. Tickets, $50 per person, can be purchased at the High School District office or Best Western Hotel on the corner of Bush St. and D Street.

How did this likeable grey-haired cop, who originally hails from sunny Southern California, who attended La Habra High School and California State Fullerton, and then joined the CHP in 1983, end up as an honored figure in the 115-year history of Lemoore High School? It’s been well documented – by friends and colleagues – that Pierce has in fact earned his new-found status, and that his photo will hang in the school’s Event Center, next to the myriad of former graduates who have excelled after high school, as well as contributed to the district’s success over the years.

You could have asked Gary Sedgwick, Dr. Willie Ewing, former LHS Superintendent Bill Black and the others who have been honored with what used to be referred to as the “Friend of Lemoore High School.” It was changed to the Gary Sedgwick Award shortly after his death two years ago.

Jerry Pierce and his family.
Jerry Pierce and his family.

Or you might ask Lemoore High School District Superintendent Debbie Muro who has worked with Pierce on many programs, including “Every 15 Minutes,” a program geared toward high school kids and the dangers of alcohol and driving. She is also a member of the Foundation’s board, which selected him. “He’s just an amazing role model for our students,” said Muro. “He’s the kind of person you want around your children.”

Like the others before him, Pierce had much the same reaction upon being told of his selection. “I was humbled,” he said over coffee at Starbucks where he meets regularly with his old CHP partner and now Lemoore City Councilman, Ray Madrigal. “But as I grow older, I welcome these kinds of things, because my kids can see what I’ve accomplished when I was much younger.”

His work with kids at Lemoore High School, where he teaches a semester-long public safety class to about 30 students, is best explained by Madrigal, who over the years has seen his friend’s positive interactions with kids and adults. He will teach the same class next semester at Sierra Pacific High School.

“A nickname Jerry acquired in the CHP was the street counselor,” remembered Madrigal, “because Jerry was always more than a “just the facts mam” kind of officer.  He was truly interested in the circumstances of people’s lives that brought them to his attention, and if someone was down and out, he would try to console them and offer advice to improve their situation.”

Madrigal, who spent many days and nights with Pierce patrolling the crowded highways of Santa Ana in Southern California, says Pierce always had a heart for people who were down on their luck.  “As life goes,” he said, “people who are down and out sometimes make decisions that compound a difficult situation.  Jerry always exercised discretion, and whenever he could, he would go easy on people experiencing difficulties in life.  I always enjoyed watching Jerry when he was in street counselor mode.”

Pierce said it was always his goal to become a cop. “It didn’t matter where,” he said, “but the CHP moved more quickly that the other law enforcement jobs I applied for” so he joined the CHP, enjoying a 30-year career that ended with his retirement in 2012.

Along the way he managed to raise four children, three girls and boy: Justin, 33, Jamie 30, Jeriese 27, and Jasmine 23. He also has nine grandchildren.

Most Kings County residents have known Pierce since 1997 as the voice of the CHP. He was the official Public Affairs Officer, his job to report on accidents, incidents, and in his spare time create outreach opportunities that benefited the community, and of course local kids.

Pierce was a visible force for the CHP. He was a constant presence at local schools and was especially enamored of Lemoore High School, and vice versa. For years he was one of the moderators, along with Families and School’s Together (FAST) CEO Paula Lehn, of the series of “Ethics Days” held at the high school and in other locations around Kings County. One day a year, Lemoore High School seniors gathered in a location, whether it was the Portuguese Hall in Lemoore or the school’s Eventer Center, to be taught valuable lessons about ethical behavior.

“I have been honored to work with Jerry for more than two decades now,” said Lehn.  “He has always been supportive, positive, and encouraging.  He wants the best for our community, our kids and our citizens, and his work and commitment is evidence of such.”

From the start, Lehn quickly spotted Pierce’s special connection to young people. “His connection with others is always fun to watch,” she said.  “He’s such a people person. He’s known wherever he goes and he’s loved by many.  Regardless if it’s a young person or not so young person, he treats others with kindness, respect and appreciation.” 

Lehn said that Pierce is always quick to offer a handshake or a hug. “He’s made so many very close and deep connections with people, and when he sees a young person, whom he has known since they were very young, his face lights up.  You can see the joy he receives from seeing these young people mature into adults.” 

Pierce was also a valuable contributor to the school’s “Every 15 Minutes” program, as noted earlier, a CHP effort to indoctrinate high school kids to the dangers of drinking alcohol and driving. Pierce was a hands-on participant who guided the evening sessions where student participants talked about their experiences. The powerful program is designed to create an awareness among students that they are not invincible to the dangers of alcohol and driving. In Lemoore’s program, which it conducted every two years, about 30 student volunteers participate in the two-day program.

A mock trial is held the second day which often involves local judges and attorneys. Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes participated in several mock trials associated with “Every 15 Minutes” and credits Pierce with its success in Kings County, particularly Lemoore High School.

“Jerry has been instrumental over the years with LHS and Every 15 minutes,” said Fagundes.  “The program and the mentoring he did has had a huge impact on our youth. He has literally saved countless lives, and he has helped to set many kids on the right path in their lives.”

Pierce has nothing but positive things to say about the Lemoore High School District and the community. “This community has always had a long line of volunteers,” he said. “Sober Grad, Ethics Day, Every 15 Minutes. These programs have always had a lot of adult volunteers. I like all the positive things about Lemoore, and how easy it was to make a difference here.”

He has a special connection with Kings Christian High School as well. He taught physical education there for several years and has grandchildren attending the school.

Whether he’s facilitating a Character Counts Conference, working with Lehn at an Ethics Day seminar, or speaking to Life Skills classes at Lemoore High School, Pierce is well known as someone who listens. “I just listen to kids,” he said, “and I talk to them with a great deal of respect. I’ve never had any problems at Lemoore High School. The kids there are great.”

His former CHP partner, Madrigal, best sums up Jerry’s best attributes: “Of all the qualities that made Jerry such an impactful person over his career with the CHP, I think his ability to connect with young kids about driving safety was his most important attribute,” he said.  “He could reach them in a way that helped them to understand the great responsibility they were taking on when getting behind the wheel of a car.

“Jerry helped kids recognize their vulnerabilities in that way special teachers have.  I watched many times as he presented to a group of kids and he seemed to always reach a point where you knew he had made that connection. Through self-deprecating humor, and shared life experiences, that made him seem genuine and “no different than us,” he could make the light bulb come on.” 

Pierce won’t be alone on October 21 at the annual Foundation dinner. The Foundation will also be honoring 1992 graduate Mandy Broaddus, 1983 grad Denee Perreira Guss, and Marc Raygoza, member of the Class of 1991.

The 2005 Central Section champion football team will also be honored along with the 2004 girls’ varsity soccer team, which won a Central Section title. Finally, the 2004 girls’ varsity volleyball team, winner of a Central Section title, will also be honored.



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