1965: Graduated from Hayden High School
Dec. 26, 1965: Married Dovie Watts
1972: Moved to Hotchkiss
March 1, 1990: Started with the Department of Corrections
1997: Promoted to sergeant
Aug. 31, 2009: Retired
For the past 19 years, Sgt. Oscar Beck has been perpetrating graveyard shift pranks and hijinks at Delta Correctional Center.
The Routt County native couldn't be trusted if left alone in an office, former co-worker Jeannie Marchbanks said.
"He'd tape your phone down to the receiver or put some goopy stuff on the receiver and have someone call you, and it'd get on your ear," she said.
Beck helped them get through the long, wee hours of the night.
"He kept it going, that's for sure," Marchbanks said.
Beck, who grew up in Oak Creek and finished high school in Hayden, retired from the Colorado Department of Corrections at the end of August. He loved tricking guys during that 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. Sometimes, Beck said, he'd play practical jokes using empty cells.
"I'd give (someone) the keys and tell him I wanted him to check the locks inside and out, and they'd shut themselves in there, and they only have key holes on one side," he said.
Beck told one co-worker that he had seven seconds to get through a door once a medical alert sounded. The doors actually don't close in those situations for two minutes.
"He was with another guy once, and he about trampled him trying to get him out that door," Beck said from his son's house in Hotchkiss.
Yampa Valley upbringing
Beck made his way to Hotchkiss in about 1972 to help his father-in-law, but his roots are planted in the Yampa Valley.
His parents divorced when he was 4, and his mother, Della Beck, died in a car crash when he was 15. Beck lived with some of his 11 brothers and sisters, working at El Rancho restaurant in Steamboat Springs to pay for his clothes and other necessities.
He met his future wife, Dovie Watts, when she started working at El Rancho.
"We actually went to school together for two years and never spoke together that whole time," she said.
Beck was attracted to her partly because of the morals she was raised with.
"Her parents didn't believe in smoking, drinking, and I didn't either," he said. "That was one of the main interests, why we started dating, was because of that."
They started dating in 1965. Beck graduated from high school that spring, and Dovie still had another year of school. They married in December 1965. She was 17.
"Vietnam came along, and things were starting to jump and hop around, so we finally decided we'd get married at Christmastime because we knew he was going to be drafted and go into the Army," Dovie Beck said.
A few weeks after they married, Oscar Beck went into the Army. He spent two years on active duty, four years in the Army Reserves and four years in the Army National Guard. Beck returned to Steamboat and worked at Safeway.
They moved to Hotchkiss because Dovie's father wasn't doing well. Oscar Beck did odd jobs and helped with haying and other ranch tasks. He worked in coal mines for about seven years.
On March 1, 1990, he started with the Department of Corrections. He worked the graveyard shift all that time, becoming a sergeant in 1997. Beck liked the shift partly because it allowed him to keep up ranch work.
"Usually I'd sleep as soon as I got home in the morning and I'd get up in the afternoon, and I could work all evening," he said. "That really worked out well."
He and Dovie have a daughter and three sons, 13 grandchildren, 10 stepgrandchildren and one great-grandchild. Dovie Beck said her husband's work at the prison didn't bother her.
"I never worried about it," she said. "He was a town marshal, and he was in the Army and everything. I never worried about it; I figured the good Lord would take care of him."
Beck said he ran into few real problems at the prison. The Delta Correctional Center is a minimum-security prison, but it used to house serious convicts, he said.
"You need to learn to get along and communicate with anybody regardless of whether he's a murderer or a child molester or whatever he is," Beck said. "That was probably the biggest challenge with these people, because you have to learn to talk to them."
The inmates appreciated Beck, Marchbanks said.
"The way inmates act, they respected him," she said. "Any kind of conflict, they'd rather talk to Sgt. Beck. Any kind of conflict, it was resolved."
He did recall one incident in 2000, when the state took away tobacco products. That resulted in what was called the Delta mini riot, Beck said.
He said he was proud of the way employees were able to handle it.
"We got it put down pretty fast with no major incidents or anything like that," Beck said. "We got it put down pretty quick, and that was without the use of any weapons of any kind."
Beck said he plans to keep busy during his retirement. His last official day was Aug. 31, and the prison held a party to send him off. He said he'd miss the co-workers most of all. The Becks have a long vacation to the West Coast planned.
Other than that, Oscar Beck said he expects to "work all the time." His wife's parents left the ranch to the Becks' children, and Oscar and Dovie live there. They house the grandchildren's 4-H animals and still put up hay.
Although Marchbanks didn't work with Beck when he retired, she said she still misses him.
"I can't say enough how much I enjoyed working with him, and to know him is to love him," she said. "He's a great person."