In his lifetime he was a locksmith and safecracker, a musician who could pick up any instrument, a fanatical champion of Route 66, a businessman, community volunteer, historian, cab driver, journalist, and “just a cool dude,” according to his daughter. Jerry Ueckert died in Edgewood July 9 at 71.
Ueckert was well-known in the Edgewood area for his tireless work promoting Historic Route 66. He co-founded the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce, along with Bob Audette, Keith Matson and Bill Gilmore. He was later managing editor of Route 66 magazine.
He was part of RETRO66, in charge of the Route 66 film festival for the 66 on 66 celebration held in Moriarty, and was photographed by a Czech film crew in Edgewood, part of a documentary about the historic road.
His passion for the Mother Road ran deep, said his daughter Mary Margaret Ueckert.
As owner of the Red Arrow Campground, which came to him through his parents, Tex and Fern Ueckert (who also owned a grocery store where Radio Shack used to be), he started a newspaper, The Advocate. His cause was promotion of Route 66 and of businesses in Edgewood.
Ueckert published this reporter’s first freelance story in The Advocate, a feature story about a Senior Olympian and Edgewood Lion named Vince Newman.
Later, The Independent returned the favor, publishing many of his local historical pieces. One of them won an award from the New Mexico Press Women for Specialty Article: “Marino Leyba was ‘the Sandia Mountain Desperado’.”
His love of Route 66 “definitely tied in with the newspaper, Mary Ueckert said, adding that he loved “the Americana aspect of it all.” Owning the campground meant meeting “the interesting people who gave life to the Mother Road,” she said, adding, “My childhood was filled with all sorts of travelers with all sorts of stories from distant, not-New Mexican, lands.”
Debbie Pogue and her husband own the Sunset Motel in Moriarty, and was part of the group organizing the 66th anniversary celebration. She posted on Facebook, “If you know Route 66 in New Mexico, you most likely knew Jerry. He was kind, funny, and so amazingly smart. Jerry didn’t just talk about getting things done, he got in there and did more than his share. We on the board of Retro66 will miss his broad array of talents, but most of all, we will miss his beautiful heart.”
Hannah Williams wrote, “Your dad was an amazing man for sure. He did so much for this community and for everyone around him.”
“Sincere condolences from myself and the New Mexico Route 66 Association,” wrote Melissa Lea Beasley-Lee. “Indeed your dad was one of a kind. He taught me how to take over the reins of New Mexico Rt66 Magazine and was always there to help if I needed anything. His endless jokes and wealth of knowledge can never be replaced and his loss will be felt all along the Mother Road.”
Linda Burke, director of the Greater Edgewood Area Chamber of Commerce, wrote, “Jerry was one of a kind. Full of interests, ideas, and kindness. His enthusiasm for community projects was such an asset to the region, and he was wonderful to work with!”
New Mexico Magazine posted on its Facebook page, “We’re saddened to hear of Jerry Ueckert’s passing. A true fan of New Mexico and especially Historic Route 66, he devoted countless hours to preserving the memory of Valentine Diners. We were lucky to share a moment with him and his tales of the Mother Road.” The post contains a link to a story, “Chrome-Plated: A Love for Valentine Diners.”
Indeed, the rare diner, produced in Wichita, Kansas in the 1940s, is one of a few remaining, according to Ueckert.
His daughter said he found it in Magdalena, and worked to renovate and restore it. The Valentine diner, which he dubbed The Red Top, is parked at Wildlife West, where she said it will remain for the time being to keep the piece of Route 66 memorabilia safe.
“They were small, manned easily, and a good place for a working class American to stop in for a burger and a drink,” she explained. The small size and mobility of the diners meant low overhead and lower prices.
Part of Route 66 festivities, “He served burgers from that diner for the Czech film crew,” she said, adding, “He was so darn proud of that.”
He volunteered with the Edgewood Lions Club, doing sound for “every melodrama Jo White ever did,” his daughter laughed.
He was a lifelong music lover, “and played just about every instrument,” Mary Ueckert said. He played guitar, bass, banjo. “What he really loved was the pedal steel guitar.”
For about the last year and a half, father and daughter played music together every Friday. “He just wanted to have fun and play music,” she said, unconstrained by style or genre, or preparing for a performance.
An Army brat, he lived on four continents growing up, she said, including in Weisbaden, Germany and Okinawa, Japan.
In 2013, he was in a car crash that left him with a traumatic brain injury, which interfered with some of the things he loved to do, like writing, which became difficult. “He really came to terms with that as well, and he accepted it as an important thing that happened to him,” his daughter said. He took classes at CNM and “got right with God,” she said.
“He was kind, he was honest and hardworking, and I don’t think he really knew when to give up sometimes, he was so dang stubborn,” she said. “He was always there to help people no matter what.”
Asked how her father would view his legacy, she said he’d like to be remembered as a hero or champion of Route 66, “or just a cool dude, I think he would be okay with.”
Jerry Ueckert is survived by his life partner/wife Lory Ueckert, his two kids, Jeremiah and Mary Ueckert, and his older brother, Sjon Ueckert. He was preceded in death by his father, Jon “Tex” Ueckert and his mother, Fern Ueckert.
A memorial service will be held at Wildlife West Nature Park at the Bean Barn, July 23 at 11 a.m. For information on the service call Mary Ueckert at 505-658-5784.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help defray the cost of funeral expenses. To find out more or to donate, visit gofundme.com/f/jerry-ueckert-cremation-and-memorial-costs.