Jerry “Coach” McPeak has helped young livestock exhibitors excel in the show ring for more than 40 years
WARNER, OKLA. – In his more than seven decades of life, Jerry “Coach” McPeak has worn several occupational hats. Everything from military service to teaching to State Representative to livestock judge to agriculture reporter could appear on Jerry’s resume if he had one.
Those do not even include the titles of husband, father and grandfather, which he values even more.
The 76-year-old said he has lived his life on his terms. He doesn’t make plans or look back in regret.
“Unlike some people who say ‘Boy, I wish I could live my life over again so I could do such and such,’” Jerry lamented. “In my life, every time something came up and I thought it looked interesting, I just went ahead and did it.”
Jerry’s Google searches are a testament to that mindset. It seems like the Checotah (Okla.) native has dabbled in almost every kind of enterprise associated with agriculture.
Yet, Jerry says that none of that was ever his intention. Coming out of high school, he had no idea of what he wanted to be. All he knew was what he didn’t want to become.
“My dad was a school superintendent, and sitting on the front porch when I had just graduated from high school, we were talking about what I was going to do,” Jerry remembered. “He said, ‘Well, you could be a teacher.’ I said, ‘Well if I can’t do anything else. I’ll teach.’ I know that hurt his feelings.”
More than a half-century later, Jerry‘s life has been all about teaching. Not just about agriculture and livestock but also life itself.
Four years after he started teaching at Connors State College and working as coach of the livestock judging team, Jerry founded the Be A Champ Camps in 1982.
“The Be A Champ Camp is by far the largest portion of our lives now,” Jerry said of him and his wife Veda. “It’s also by far the longest-lasting portion of our lives. This is going to be our 42nd year having Be a Champ camp. Originally, I did it because I was judging shows and I saw such poor showmanship, and I thought we can help these kids. And I hadn’t been teaching at Connors very long, and I thought that’d be good for Connors too to do that. But Connors didn’t want to do it. They didn’t want to put out any money to, you know, do advertising or anything. So, we just did it ourselves. Otherwise, Connors would own that instead of us. But that was 42 years ago. We were just going to do it one year, one time.”
The one time turned into four decades as Jerry saw how the camp was affecting the campers. Fifty-five kids showed up in the first year. That has expounded to 500 kids from all over to be part of Jerry’s camp.
Jerry uses techniques that have become out of style in some places. Discipline, hard work and tough love have become the camp’s foundation.
“We really started out just purely to teach them how to show and groom their cattle and sheep,” Jerry said. “We do sheep and cattle and how to fit clip and shear and do all those kinds of things. Then, of course, with that came along the health stuff, and we just evolved. It was just every year, it went to something else. And then it’s admittedly become a motivational thing as well, but mostly we just remind them of who they are and what they can do and show them how much greater they are than what they can perceive that they are. We believe that every kid can be a champ.”
While running the camp, Jerry took on other roles at Connor’s State as well. They included Connor’s judging team coach, dean of men, psychology instructor and agriculture instructor.
The college even dedicated the McPeak Agriculture Hall of Fame in his honor. It is located on the Warner (Okla.) campus.
“You will not find a person, who believes in their kids, more than he does,” said Blake Nelson, Executive Vice President for the American Maine-Anjou Association. “There are many coaches who teach how to be successful in contests, but there are only a few who teach kids to be successful in life.”
Jerry’s life outside was just as busy. School board member, Little League coach, National Livestock Coaches Association Secretary and 4-H leader were just a few of his outside interests.
Despite being in his 70s, Jerry is still a busy man. He finds time to dabble in politics and Be A Cham Camp. He also raises livestock strictly for show.
“I personally only run just a few cows. I only have about 35 cows there. Every one of them is dedicated to raising for show,” Jerry said. “My older son runs a much larger operation. He runs a cow/calf and a stocker operation. I only have about 30 cows that we are totally dedicated to being show calves.”
After all these years of being around almost every breed of cattle, Jerry doesn’t have a favorite. When it comes to shows, there is something special about all of them.
“If you can go in my pasture and not find one of the colors and breeds you like that, then I have messed up,” Jerry said. “My granddaughter right now is showing mostly Shorthorns. I raised mostly Simmental and Maines (Maine-Anjou), Chi (Chianina), some Herefords We never found a breed we didn’t like. Never found a breed we couldn’t find something good about.”
Jerry gives all the credit for whatever public life success he has obtained to his wife and children (Jeff, Jason, Jinger and Joris).
It was Veda who encouraged him in 2004 to run for office despite not having a single dollar for the campaign. But the entire family had to vote on whether he should do it or not. At the time only 9-year-old Joris voted no.
“My family has made much more sacrifices. You know my name and knew who I was, but it’s only because my family made sacrifices and my name got out there and was the one that got stuck on doing the things,” Jerry said. “But my kids and my wife made by far the greater sacrifices, they’re the heroes of the deal and I’m not being humble.”
Because of them, Jerry has been able to lead a life without having to worry about making plans. He just takes every day as it comes and goes from there.
“I’m going to do what the good Lord gives me to do tomorrow, but I got to get done today,” Jerry said. “I got to do it just as hard and as fast and as good as I can. And tomorrow I’m going to do what’s put out there in front of me. I don’t know for sure what that is. I just know when it shows up, I’m supposed to do it the best I can.”