Stadium Club and AT&T Stadium Tours Host Families of Fallen Police Officers During Weekend of Honor
A very special group of families toured AT&T Stadium and dined at Stadium Club on Saturday during Weekend of Honor, a series of events marking the one year anniversary of the tragic loss of lives of five Dallas officers. The weekend honored not only the Dallas officers who were ambushed in downtown Dallas, but also officers from around the country who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. For those officers’ families making first-time visits to Dallas, a trip to the stadium was organized.
AT&T Stadium and Stadium Club had the privilege of hosting the families of fallen officers Jose Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny of Palm Springs, California, and officers Matthew Gerald, Montrell Jackson, and sheriff deputy Brad Garafola from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“Bringing these families together for a comforting time in a place that is special for our community, a place where people from all over the world gather everyday at the stadium, it was moving for all of us,” said Josh Hume, Restaurant Director for Legends at AT&T Stadium. “Chef Pauline jumped in and asked if she could plan a special menu. She wanted to do something very special, family-style. What these families have sacrificed, it’s profound. If coming here brings them some joy and comfort, it’s beautiful. We’re honored to be part of it.”
Officer Vega, who spent 35 years on the Palm Springs police force before he and Officer Zerebny were killed answering a family disturbance call, was weeks from retiring. A lifelong Cowboys fan, Vega planned to celebrate retirement by bringing his three adult children to Texas to see a Cowboys game.
Although he never got to see his team play in person, the Vega family arrived this weekend with a framed photo of Officer Vega wearing his #9 Romo jersey. They placed the frame on top of the star at the entrance to Stadium Club and posed for a family photo. They had made it to the home of the Cowboys and brought their dad with them.
The tour and dinner at AT&T Stadium were also extra special for Trenisha Jackson who says that her husband, Montrell, a 10 year veteran of the Baton Rouge Police Department, had planned to see a game because the Cowboys were his all-time favorite team.
“It’s an awesome experience because my husband was a huge Dallas fan,” recalls Trenisha. “It’s really nice to see the actual stadium. He and I actually talked about coming to a game. On the tour, I really like seeing the locker room and the press box. He would have been in awe to come on the tour. He’d be pointing everywhere, taking pictures and posting. He posted so much about the Cowboys on his Facebook page, about the new players. He would have loved being here.
“At Montrell’s funeral, the speaker who gave the words of encouragement said, ‘I know Montrell is going to be up there rooting for the Dallas Cowboys’. So when the roof is open on Sundays, Montrell is going to be up there watching the game through the hole in the roof.”
Touring the stadium and having “together time” during the family-style meal provided a fun respite for these families. Watching the kids (and kids at heart) take photos in front of Dak’s and Zeke’s lockers in the Cowboys locker room…or strike a pose like the DCC in the cheerleaders’ locker room…or take a turn at the podium in the postgame press conference room…it brought the group together in a special way.
The opportunity to bond was particularly important, noted David Kling, father of Palm Springs Officer Lesley Zerebny. Kling is retired from the California Highway Patrol and his daughter followed his career path into law enforcement. Lesley was only 27 years old, mother of a 4-month old, and had just returned from maternity leave when she and Officer Vega answered the disturbance call.
“We got to spend time with the families from Baton Rouge and the situations we’ve found ourselves in, the common ground we have in terms of where we are in our grieving process, it’s still really fresh,” notes Kling. “So it was helpful to spend time with them.
“Our time in Texas was everything I thought it would be with the friendly people. Everyone we’ve dealt with has been compassionate. It was amazing coming to see this beautiful stadium, we were very excited about it and, being a sports fan, it was just awesome. Brandon, our tour guide, was so enthusiastic. He was off-the-charts as a guide. The locker room was great, but being a guy who likes technology, I was astounded with the scoreboard. I told Chief (Bryan) Reyes (Palm Springs police chief) that this stadium, compared to anything in California, there’s nothing even close. And the food here at Stadium Club, the mac-n-cheese is to die for. Chef Pauline kept serving it up. It was comfort food and then some.”
Chef Pauline Badillo and the staff at Stadium Club are used to preparing sensational dishes for fans visiting the stadium, 7 days a week, for stadium tours or games or concerts…or just for a really great meal because it’s one of the top new restaurants in North Texas. But this meal, this menu, was extra special.
“It was an important thing for us to do, to recognize these families, so I wanted to include multiple courses and do some food that we’re soon adding to our menu,” she notes. “We started with the spinach dip, then our Caesar salad, and, of course, the macaroni-and-cheese with the garlic herb crust over the top. The new items included the beer-glazed rotisserie chicken, collard greens, and glazed carrots. For dessert, for the kids, we had a special batch of Back the Blue Cupcakes.”
For Legends’ Josh Hume, the Weekend of Honor hit especially close to home, literally.
“Last year when the incident happened in downtown Dallas, that’s right when I moved here. I live downtown and could hear the sirens all night,” he recalls. “A friend and I had just cancelled plans to have dinner at a place right next to where the shootout happened. Thank goodness we canceled, or we would have been there. It’s one of those things where I’ll never forget where I was when it happened. Also, two of my best friends back home in Tampa are cops. I back the blue, everyone here backs the blue. It’s our honor to host these families.”
*Writer’s note: it was a true privilege to share time with our 30 guests during The Weekend of Honor. All of us who co-hosted the families on Saturday gratefully acknowledge the efforts of Marla Thomas, project manager of Weekend of Honor, for putting everything together. As for Stadium Club, special thanks to Josh Hume, Justin Renville, Fran Gallagher, and Chef Pauline. You guys went the extra mile in providing the delicious meal and ‘together time’ for the families! And the stadium tour was a culmination of good will and hard work; a special shout-out goes to Joe Trahan in Cowboys PR, Emily Robbins in Community Relations, the AT&T Stadium security team, and the fine people at AT&T Stadium Tours who proudly Back the Blue.