On Saturday, a tragic traffic accident deprived Garden City of a man who touched the lives of many.
What began as a day like any other for 67-year-old Robert Becker ended in tragedy.
Becker was riding his beloved, bright blue 2009 Kawasaki motorcycle — which he lovingly referred to as his girlfriend and named Lucille — when 31-year-old Bashir Omar fatally allegedly rear-ended him in his 2002 Jeep Liberty in the 2400 block of Fleming Street at around 6:57 p.m.
As a member and chaplain of both the American Legion and the Vets for Veterans motorcyclist group that effectively replaced the local post of the American Legion Riders, Becker was recognized as a veteran who would do anything for anyone.
“He was just always there,” said Tessa Romero-Blood, a family friend of the Beckers for 20 years who was appointed to speak on behalf of Becker’s daughters. “I lost my brother and my mom back-to-back, and he was the first person there. He was always the first person there for anybody.”
A lifelong resident of Finney County, Becker is survived by three daughters and a son: Michelle Becker-Allen, Bretta Becker-Heinitz, Brandi Becker and Scott Clark. Beyond family members, Becker is also survived by a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten in Garden City.
But the sting of Becker’s sudden, violent death will be felt for some time to come by those same people, and on behalf of the Becker family, Romero-Blood urges community members to cherish Becker’s memory in the same fashion that he celebrated his life and the people around him.
“The man who (allegedly) killed him has to live with what he did. He will be punished to the full extent of the law by the law and the judicial system. It’s not our place to do it,” Romero-Blood said. “Bob would not have wanted the ugliness that we are seeing online. Bob was a gentle, loving and kind person, and knowing him, even he would forgive this man for what happened.”
Close friends of Becker were devastated by the loss, and while some harsh sentiments abide, all were in agreement that Becker would not want his memory to be tarnished by hate.
“We’re devastated,” said Donna Hernandez, commander of the local American Legion post. “It’s put a big hole in our organization. There was no finer human being than Robert Becker. He didn’t care about your race, your color, your religious preference. He didn’t care if you had money. He didn’t care if you was old, young. He did for everybody. He was an outstanding person.”
Throughout his life in Finney County and beyond, Becker was a part of many organizations and exerted his influence and imparted his kindness on others in numerous ways.
He served the United States Army during the Vietnam War from September 1969 to September 1971. He worked for 29 years as a zookeeper at the Lee Richardson Zoo, retiring in 2002. He worshipped at the First Baptist Church of Holcomb, and in addition to the American Legion and Vets for Veterans, he was a member of the Patriot Guard and the Christian Motorcycle Association. He served as chaplain for St. Catherine Hospice, Vets for Veterans, the American Legion and the Patriot Guard. Many of his friends remember him fondly by an apt epithet — Preacher — because he would deliver sermons at Garnand Funeral Home for veterans if they didn’t have a church pastor.
Mrs. Hernandez said Becker visited “every veteran that was ever in the hospital,” and if that veteran died, Becker took it upon himself to collect donations amounting to $200 and presented those to the veteran’s family.
“As far as the American Legion goes and the role he filled, right now we have no decision of what we’re going to do because it’s going to take a mighty big person to fill his role,” Mrs. Hernandez said through tears. “It’s just going to put a big hole in our Legion family. It’s going to take a long time to find anybody who can replace him.”
Ray Hernandez, Mrs. Hernandez’s husband and the commander of Vets for Veterans, agreed. Having known Becker for “an eternity,” Mr. Hernandez described him as a man who would “give the shirt off his back for anybody.”
“He was the kind of person that you want to be around with,” Mr. Hernandez said. “We’re going to miss him very much. His position is not going to be filled in any capacity for quite awhile, because there are no shoes that will fill it.”
Anna Worden, treasurer with Vets for Veterans, said she can’t remember a time in her life without Becker, a man she likened to a father.
She told of a man who wouldn’t stand by and let a veteran funeral pass without someone there to honor that life.
“He always carried those little lifesaver mints, those little white mints in his pockets at the funerals, and he would always pull them out and try to open them quietly when the funeral was going on and he would pass them down to everybody,” Worden recalled fondly. “You could always count on Preacher to have those mints in his pocket. He probably had them on the bike when this happened.”
Worden described Becker as a “mellow, godly man” who didn’t acknowledge the concept of a stranger.
“If he sees someone when he’s out and about that looks like they might need some assistance, he’s over there helping,” Worden said. “Not a bad bone in his entire body. Huge mustache. Always either a hug or a handshake, and laughing with that big mustache.”
According to Jim Arwine, a judge advocate with the American Legion, Becker had “no enemies.”
For Arwine, Becker didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk in his duties as chaplain. Arwine recounted how Becker attended “almost every area veteran’s funeral service.”
“He stood with them out at the cemetery,” Arwine said. “As a matter of fact, what happened most of the time, he would show up at the cemetery with flags flying, whether he rode his motorcycle or whether he drove his truck. He was a very quiet but proud man, and he loved his country.”
What may be a familiar image of Becker riding the streets with that big handlebar mustache and his beloved Lucille may become just a memory, but it won’t be one soon forgotten by a great many members of the Garden City community.
“I know my part of my world with Preacher, but there are so many people, so many other things that he did,” Worden said. “I think no one is aware of all the people he’s touched.”
Arwine said the Legion is planning a “good sendoff” for Becker. His funeral is scheduled to be held at 2 p.m. on Monday at the First Southern Baptist Church in Garden City.