Etching toward eternity
The rows of polished, stately headstones are every-day sights for local residents but there’s another side to Rockdale Memorial Co., one that has earned it the respect of the entire Texas law enforcement community.
Rockdale Memorial has donated, and engraved, more than 75 monuments, now at sites all over the state, honoring the sacrifice of every Texas state trooper killed in the line of duty over the past 80 years. All but one.
Trooper Javier Arena of El Paso died in a car crash in March during a chase in that West Texas city.
“His marker is sitting in our shop right now,” Paul Luckey said. Luckey, with sisters Linda and Carol, runs the business started by their father, Edward, in 1946.
‘150 YEARS’—Rockdale Memorial was affiliated with Phillips & Luckey Funeral Home, run by Edward’s brother Don, in the 1940s and 1950s. The funeral home was sold in the early 1970s but the memorial business has remained with the Luckey family.
“I guess I’ve been coming down and working here since I was about six years old,” Luckey said.
Working with granite combines physical labor and artistic work. It’s the exact opposite of what has increasingly become a “disposable” American society.
“I tell people what we’re all about is permanence,” he said. “Our goal is that our product will last 150 years and probably much more.”
Making a headstone, or other kind of granite marker, may look to be a simple task but the truth is far different.
“Every cut requires two knife lines,” Luckey said. “They have to be just right so the sand blasting process will reach it.”
GEORGIA GREY—Rockdale Memorial’s sand blaster is a story all by itself. It’s the original one Edward Luckey used in the 1940s.
“I guess you’d call us old school,” Luckey laughed. “It’s been something to maintain all these years. You can’t really buy parts. When it needs work we either make what we need or just adapt around the problem.”
Ironically, with so much native Texas granite found, between 80 and 85 percent of Rockdale Memorial’s stone in the area around Elberton, Georgia,” Luckey said. “It’s shipped to us already cut in blanks.”
FALLEN TROOPERS— Luckey’s life, and the life of Rockdale Memorial, changed in the early 1990s when a giant of a man named Rick Metcalf stooped down to get through the business’s front door and told Luckey about an idea.
Metcalf had been stopped for speeding near Del Valle in 1991 by a trooper named Carlos Warren.
Metcalf was impressed with the manner in which the young trooper handled himself, then was horrified later to read Warren had been shot to death as he tried to stop a kidnapping attempt.
And Metcalf made up his mind that every Texas state trooper who died in the line of duty was going to be memorialized forever.
That’s where Luckey came in.
Why Luckey? “He’d been other places before but I was the first one who listened to him,” Luckey said. “I guess some of the others thought he was crazy. Rick was a very unique individual. Things just happened for him that didn’t happen for anyone else.”
Luckey began to donate markers and the engraving for Metcalf’s projects. The project took on a life of its own.
BONNIE AND CLYDE— There are now close to 80 memorials, all over Texas, donated by Rockdale Memorial.
“The troopers honored go back to 1932,” Luckey said. “There’s one memorial in Dallas for some who were killed by Bonnie and Clyde.”
Metcalf died in 1998 and his brother, Don, stepped up to take his place, picking up and setting the markers.
Luckey is well-known in law enforcement circles and occasionally gets approached by other agencies.
He has donated memorials to some of those agencies, too.
Luckey even donated a marker for a Colorado state trooper killed in a 2001 crash chasing a vehicle thought to contain the notorious Texas Seven. (It didn’t, making the crash doubly tragic.)
CRASH—Rockdale Memorial continues to be a family business. Besides the three Luckey siblings its only other employees are Pat Zapata and Della Coleman.
The business survived a little excitement of its own last winter.
It’s located at a “jog” at the corner of Cameron Avenue (US 79) and Scarbrough Street. The inevitable finally happened on Nov. 26, 2011.
On a Saturday night, a Harlingen man, unaware of the jog, lost control of his pickup and plowed through the Rockdale Memorial lot.
No one was hurt but 30 markers were heavily damaged with a $60,000 loss for the memorial company.
“We’ve pretty much recovered from that but it did take a while, several months,” Luckey said. “You’ll see that we don’t put markers in that front row, nearest to the highway, anymore.”
But, characteristically, Luckey takes a long-range view of the accident.
“It was a Saturday evening and the parking lot at Lee’s Landing (restaurant) across the street was full,” he said. “Of course there was nobody here. It’s a good thing he went this way, because he could just as easily have jerked the wheel after hitting the curb, gone into that parking lot and killed somebody.”
There’s been a lighter side to Rockdale Memorial’s location, with its dozens of gravestones just a few feet from a major US highway.
“Over the years we have had some people who think this is a cemetery,” he laughed. “In fact, at first, the guy who ran up in here last November thought that’s what it was.”