ROCK HALL — This is a story about a man’s best friends, and how they are coming together to support his bestest friend.
Truck driver Robert Benjamin Gerlock – everyone called him “Benny” or “Bear” – died last week behind the wheel of his rig, which crashed on Interstate 35E south of downtown Dallas. The 59-year-old Rock Hall man was on the job for Michigan-based Equity Transportation, his employer of 25 years.
Friends say Gerlock had an impeccable driving record. They believe he may have had a medical episode that led to the crash.
Gerlock was killed instantly when his 18-wheeler crashed into a concrete column supporting the overpass at the U.S. Route 67 split. But somehow – folks we talked to say it was “a miracle” – Gerlock’s traveling companion survived without a scratch, though she had to be cut out of the wreckage.
Gerlock never went anywhere without Holly, a 6-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever he had since she was a pup.
Apparently the dog was asleep in the back of Gerlock’s rig when it crashed on I-35 shortly after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 26.
“She was in the back sleeping, she had a bed back there, and that’s what saved her,” Sandy Nordhoff, of Rock Hall, said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “It’s a miracle that anything survived,” she added.
In the days immediately following the single-vehicle crash Holly received tender loving care from first responders, the Dallas Animal Services shelter and a DFW Rescue Me foster family that took her in for Thanksgiving.
But Rock Hall wanted Holly home.
Numerous phone calls and emails were exchanged between Gerlock’s friends in Rock Hall and agencies in Dallas. The media – both print and television – got a hold of Holly’s story and made her a celebrity overnight. That notoriety put Holly’s return to Rock Hall on the fast track, and she was due “home” late Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 4. By 3 p.m. the firehouse had been emptied and the fleet of trucks was stationed at Reuwer’s Boat Works, on the outskirts of town, ready to trumpet Holly’s arrival with the proverbial bells and whistles.
Russell Nordhoff, 47, and Joe Creighton, 62, lifetime friends of Benny Gerlock, made the 2,800-mile round trip in Gerlock’s GMC Sierra. They left Rock Hall on Saturday, Nov. 30, arrived in Dallas on Monday, Dec. 2 at about noon and, after collecting Holly, were back on the road.
They stopped Monday night in Malvern, Ark., and spent Tuesday night in a Motel 6 in Bristol, Va.
“We’re in Benny’s truck so it would be more familiar,” Nordhoff said Tuesday night, as the trio crossed from Bristol, Tenn., into Bristol, Va. He said the dog – which had logged hundreds of thousands of miles with her owner – was tolerating the trip well, but quietly and keeping to herself. “The only time she wakes up is to go to the bathroom,” Nordhoff said in an interview by cell phone.
At the hotel on Monday night, Holly “wandered a little, like she’s looking for Benny,” Nordhoff said. “She’s been sleeping in bed with Joe. ... She snores louder than we do!”
“When we get her home she’s going to be excited,” Nordhoff added, “but I’m pretty sure she’s going to look for Benny.”
Nordhoff said that Holly already has sensed that something is amiss. “She always got in [Gerlock’s truck] on the driver’s side, and then across his lap and over the seat. But when we opened the door to bring her home, she got right in on the passenger side.”
Nordhoff, married and the father of two daughters who are attending college, is a self-employed contractor. He is bringing Holly home on his own dime.
“I know that Benny would have done this for us, so there was no question about us doing this for him,” Nordhoff’s wife Sandy wrote in an email Tuesday night.
“There was no question. We had to come,” Creighton told WFAA TV in Dallas-Forth Worth. “If you were a friend of his, he’d go around the world for you ... so this is the least we could do for him.”
The plan is for Holly to live in the home that Gerlock shared with his elderly stepfather, Goldey Vansant, a retired boat builder who is “a very good 80,” according to Kelley Reuwer.
Husband and wife Mark and Kelley Reuwer own the marine services business that is located next door to Vansant’s home in the 6000-block of Rock Hall Road. They have been Vansant’s neighbors for 26 years, and bought the building that houses Reuwer Boat Works from Vansant.
Kelley Reuwer said on Wednesday that “we’re not sure what ‘Mr. Goldey’ needs, we’re kind of easing into that.”
A Help for Holly fund has been set up at the Peoples Bank in Rock Hall to assist with veterinary care, pet supplies and maybe the construction of a kennel or fence for the dog. Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 96, Rock Hall, MD 21661 or dropped off at the bank.
Kelley Reuwer and Brian Jones, who wears many hats that include vice mayor of Rock Hall and public information officer for the town’s volunteer fire department, were instrumental in locating Holly and bringing her back to Rock Hall.
“Benny was inseparable from Holly. They’d never been apart,” Reuwer said in a telephone interview Dec. 4. “Once I found out that the dog was OK, I called Brian and said ‘let’s start working on getting her home.’”
Reuwer’s dog, a 15-year-old Labrador retriever, died about three weeks ago. Klassie and Holly spent a lot of time together, and were known as the “Rock Hall icons,” according to Reuwer.
She and Klassie also were inseparable – like Gerlock and Holly – “which made me even more determined to get her home,” Reuwer said.
“Our community saw the need to help a friend and we acted,” Jones wrote in an email Wednesday morning. “Everyone pulled together, gathered information and found Holly. At that point two communities formed a bond together, Rock Hall, MD and Dallas, TX” to bring Holly home.
There will be a graveside service for Gerlock on Sunday, Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. in the Chester Cemetery, Chestertown. Afterward a celebration of his life will he held at the Rock Hall American Legion.