MEET HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE BECKY BEACH
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
The Roosevelt High School Foundation and Alumni Association is pleased to announce that Becky (Smith) Beach, ’74, has been selected as the 2020 Roosevelt Hall of Fame inductee. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the traditional reception and student assembly honoring Beach was cancelled — but we’d like you to get to know this amazing alum!
Fundraiser, event planner, and animal lover Becky Beach never imagined her incredibly varied career path would lead her to where she is today. But the work she has done has helped dozens of military veterans regain connections with their families, friends, and the outside world.
Beach (KPA-CTP, ABCDT) is the founder and CEO of the Puppy Jake Foundation (PJF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping military veterans by providing them the assistance of well-bred, socialized and professionally trained service dogs. She founded the organization in 2013.
“Service animals have been an aid to recovery, mobility, and medical care for many years,” she says, “But after the Iraqi conflicts, the research showing the benefits of bringing service dogs and vets together really caught up.”
Service through the military has played a significant role in Beach’s life. Both her grandfathers and her father were military doctors, and her husband, Charlie Beach, served active duty in Vietnam.
Public service was also an intrinsic part of Beach’s family life. Her grandmother was Mary Louise Smith, a political organizer and women's rights activist, and the first woman to chair a major political party in the United States.
Well before her years at Roosevelt, Beach recalls stuffing envelopes and working for Bob Ray and Richard Nixon as a youth volunteer. During high school, she became even active in Republican politics. Not surprisingly, her major at Mt. Holyoke College was political science.
Immediately after graduation, her grandmother introduced Beach to her friends, George Herbert Walker Bush and his wife Barbara Bush. She was hired as Barbara Bush’s personal assistant in 1978.
“I made her schedule, traveled with her, handled press inquires — back in the day, there weren’t large staffs; it was only me,” she says. And the famous “first dog,” Millie? Beach was the person in charge of taking Millie to the vet.
As her career in public service grew, Beach continued to organize and raise funds for, among others, Senator Charles Grassley, President George W. Bush, and congressional candidate Jeff Lamberti. She returned to Iowa in 1993.
“I had my own sense of patriotism, but I learned to give back from the Bushes,” she says. “Patriotism was what led me to bring together two things: dogs and country.”
Beach credits her friend Renee Jetter, owner of Canine Craze, for helping her start the PJF —like many entrepreneurial start ups, from Beach’s home. Jeff Lamberti provided significant help in fundraising and getting the program off the ground.
“It was an old-school effort,” Beach says of the fundraising. “Republicans, Democrats, Independents…anyone who shared our goal, without regard to political parties.”
And the name “Puppy Jake?”
“When I was working on the (Governor Terry) Branstad inaugural, my dog Jake, a yellow lab, was often with me,” she says. “One young staffer’s name was Jake and it got confusing who I was calling out to, so my dog became ‘Puppy Jake.’” (The original Puppy Jake is now 10 years old!)
To date, the PJF has matched 28 trained dogs with veterans; 33 are in training now, a process that takes several years. Four dogs will “graduate” this summer from the PJF training facility in Urbandale, Iowa, near Jetter’s facility.
“The comments we receive from vets are heartwarming,” Beach says. “One vet’s wife reported that her husband will now go on date nights and sit through an entire concert again, ‘just the three of us.’” Another story involved a veteran who was suffering from anxiety. His service dog performed as trained to keep the man as calm as possible. When the vet went to the ER later, the dog came along, walking backwards into the ER so as to maintain eye contact with the man. “That was not something we had trained the dog to do,” Beach marvels. “It was instinctive.”
Beach has not forgotten TRHS through the years. “I loved Roosevelt and had a great time and great experiences there,” she says. “It’s a wonderful school.”
She put her fundraising talents to work for the school, working with Marvin Pomerantz and Chuck Betts to raise money for the Pomerantz Gym and the Reichardt Drive.
In addition, the PJF is widely supported by many Des Moines businesses, groups, and citizens.
“We’ve had some Roosevelt families serve as foster homes to help socialize the young pups,” she says, “And we’re always looking for puppy sitters to take dogs for a week or a weekend.”
Like other nonprofits, the PJF relies on the generous financial contributions of its supporters. This year, the Foundation’s primary fundraiser has been moved from May to June, and its annual 11-day presence at the Iowa State Fair will hopefully still happen in August.
Until then, Roosevelt alums are invited to help the Puppy Jake Foundation with gifts of money or time. Learn more by emailing Beach directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To nominate an alumni for the Theodore Roosevelt Foundation Hall of Fame, click here!