Recently, the Cross family decided to take a road trip all the way from Maryland to support their youngest daughter, who would be studying ballet for a month at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI). However, a slight detour was on the horizon.
As the family — mother Colette and daughters Parker, 18, and Lilian, 15 — entered the state of Missouri, Colette remembered that her late father, James "Gordy" Eckert, grew up in California.
While taking a separate detour to Springfield to meet a family friend, the trio arrived at the California Democrat to see if they could find more information about Colette's father, his parents, and any other information they were not aware of.
"We were so close between St. Louis and Springfield, I pulled out my road atlas and said, 'I think we can go to California on our way," Colette said. "(I told my children) that honestly, I think I'll find somebody that knows that name because they were in this town forever and I think pretty big names."
While at the Democrat, the family was provided with records of Gordy and his father, Ray, dating back to 1959. Ray Eckert, a former professional wrestler, settled down in California with his wife, Dorothy, after years of traveling to locales in Canada, Mexico and Hawaii for his career.
After settling in town, the Eckerts bought the Standard Oil Gas Station and, later, the Western Auto Associate Store. Their son, "Gordy," would graduate from California High School in 1959, move on to Central Methodist College and eventually become the chief of police in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
Colette said her father would eventually change his preferred name to "Jay" as he moved further from home and advanced in his career. She said he would even go on to be part of the security detail for President George Bush Sr.
"(He was Secret Service) for the father of Mr. Bush and Henry Kissinger," Colette said. "He was the first-hand man to Henry Kissinger for years. When you're (in that position) you're the person that is supposed to take the bullet, you're the one that is supposed to dive in front of that."
While not her biological father, Colette said that James "Gordy" Eckart filled that role very well, treating her as his own daughter. She said a strong bond formed between the two as she got older, which would extend outward toward her children as well. Even though he passed away from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease a decade ago, Colette said his influence can still be felt in their family, especially as they marched forward to prepare Lilian for her stay at KCAI, but also before her youngest daughter was even born.
"When I was pregnant with Lilian, he was very sick and had triple bypass surgery and we weren't sure he was going to make it," Colette said. "I couldn't visit the hospital because I was pregnant and even though I didn't know if we were having a boy or a girl, I immediately decided that we're having a 'James' in the family. I called her sweet baby James the whole time I was pregnant."