Here we go with understatements again. The 100 Club of Houston began 67 years ago with 100 Houstonians each contributing $100 to benefit surviving families of officers killed in the line of duty.
Back in 1953 that was an impressive amount of money – well, until you learn exactly how much what is now known as the 100 Club of Greater Houston has raised and contributed to not only HPD families but also law enforcement officers and firefighters over the 32 counties surrounding the Bayou City.
The contribution amount also helped to fund personal protective equipment and one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art policing equipment like SWAT’s Bearkat.
We’ll let the numbers presented by 100 Club executive director William Skeen tell today’s story.
America’s Largest 100 Club
“Cumulatively, we have helped 190 families in our 67-year history,” Skeen told the Badge & Gun. “This amounts to over $46 million to assist families and purchase life-protecting equipment to keep officers safe.”
And, by the way, that original 100-member outfit has increased to more than 32,000 members of the 100 Club “that help to make all this happen,” he said.
Skeen is loaded with facts. Here’s the most striking one for your digestion:
“We’re the largest 100 club in the nation. We have more members and contribute more than any other club in the nation.”
One must ante up 100 bucks to join, $1,000 to become a lifetime member. Any time an officer or firefighter loses his/her life in the line of duty, the call goes out for contributions to the survivor’s fund.
This enables Skeen and a member of the club’s Benefits Committee to spring into the actions needed to tackle what the three-year executive director calls “a somber job.”
“First off,” he carefully explained, “is a $20,000 check to the family within 48 hours for any immediate needs they may have. We would then come back in a month or so when the family is ready and we assess their financial needs.
“Normally there are mortgage and car payments and other debts. Then we want to assist with college educations for all the kids. We assist them with tuition and needs they may have, buy them a laptop and help them with their room and board. This applies to state schools and trade schools as well. We have assisted kids at private universities as well. We’re helping an HPD college kid at Baylor right now.”
“Every case is different. We look at the needs of every family and we try to address the needs of each of all of them and their children. Our goal is to eliminate all the debts of the family. We pick up the pieces – or try to. When other benefits come in – like from the state and the feds – they can invest them for the future.”
Currently, the state benefit to the surviving family of an officer killed in the line of duty amounts to $500,000. Federal benefits amount to $380,000.
“Those can take up to a year to come in. We try to eliminate all immediate debt and make sure the kids can enroll in school. We’re a private non-profit that moves very quickly.”
When you stop to think about it, that works better and probably more efficiently than a more time-consuming government operation. This is especially true when city councils and purchasing departments must get involved in the purchase of PPEs and specialized policing vehicles, Skeen pointed out.
Experienced Game Warden
He didn’t want to generalize about benefits to families because each need is so different. But he said in recent years the 100 Club gifts to survivors have amounted to “$300,000 to an average family.’
The term average should be in italics because Skeen keeps stressing that every family is different.
He should know. He succeeded long-time 100 Club executive director Rick Hartley three years ago. In that rather short tenure, Skeen has seen more action than he would care to, 16 line of duty deaths in his first three years. Oh, the Bearkat presentation was fun but since last August six area law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty on Skeen’s watch. Not fun, but necessary.
And they were:
- DPS Trooper Moises Sanchez from the Valley, shot in the head. He died in Houston.
- Harris County Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal deputy shot in the back of the head by a parolee.
- HPD Sgt. Christopher Brewster, shot to death during a domestic disturbance Dec. 7.
- Nassau Bay Sgt. Kaila Sullivan, run over trying to arrest a wanted suspect.
- San Jacinto County Deputy Brian Pfluger, crashed his shop while responding to a call.
- Liberty County Deputy Richard Whitten, shot by a murder suspect. Paralyzed, he died 10 months after the shooting.
The 100 Club selected Skeen, a career Texas game warden, to succeed the retired Rick Hartley in January 2017. Skeen, a criminal justice graduate of Sam Houston State University, retired after 27 years while serving as a major and the regional supervisor for the upper Texas coast. He was over 32 counties and 100 game wardens. He grew up in Clear Lake and spent time as a game warden in Sabine and Limestone counties before returning to the Houston area. He promoted to lieutenant and eventually became one of the state’s 10 game warden majors.
He hails from a law enforcement family. His great uncle was Texas Ranger Capt. Skippy Rundell, other family members who were a sergeant with Fort Worth PD, and two DPS troopers.
Oh, and his brother, Martin, is an HPD sergeant in Narcotics!
Coincidentally, the game warden colonel under whom Maj. Skeen served was recently named head of the 100 Club serving the Austin area. Skeen said breaking in was challenging for him. In his first month of service a San Marcos police officer and a Bell County deputy died in the line of duty.
As a game warden, Skeen stepped forward when one of his fellow wardens made the ultimate sacrifice. “Over the years,” he said, “I saw what the club did to assist the families.”
Skeen said and after he retired: “I wanted to continue serving officers and their families by coming over to the 100 Club.”
Generally, the state of Texas has about 500 game wardens. Since 1895, 19 have died in the line of duty.
Under the leadership of Chairman Don Woo of Mission Construction and President Jimmy Graves of Graco Mechanical (industrial air conditioning), the club chose Skeen over a number of worthy candidates.
He is married to Karla and the couple has two offspring, son Brady, a Texas A&M graduate, and daughter Joely, a San Jacinto College student.
It’s apparent Skeen welcomes the challenge of the job. As he was being interviewed by the B&G he was preparing to speak to the current HPD cadet class at the L. D. Morrison Police Academy.
Before he could do that, he had to answer the “hard question” posed by the B&G.
“Are you a better golfer than Rick Hartley?”
Skeen laughed loudly along with his questioner and said, “Yes!”
But he quickly added that, in reality, there is a qualifier: “If I can’t fish or hunt, I golf.”