Jacob Shames “Jake” Behr

Published 5:54 pm Friday, December 16, 2022

Jacob Shames “Jake” Behr, age 85, of LaGrange, GA, passed away on November 28, 2022, at Wellstar West Georgia Medical Center despite his courageous efforts to overcome long-term pulmonary issues. 

Jake was born on February 14, 1937, in Sanford, Florida.  He is preceded in death by his parents Marie Hallbauer Behr and Harry Shames Behr, his sisters Betty Behr Hughes and Donna Zoe Behr, his brother Jonathan Shames Behr, and his former spouses, Kay Itzkow Behr Podem and Nancy Bagley Evetts Behr. He is survived by his wife, Dean Crawford Chewning Behr, his three children, Reisha Behr Holton (Steve), Jeffrey Shames Behr (Noriko), and Richard Kunnes Behr (Mita), his six grandchildren, Hallie Elizabeth Holton, Katie Holton Ratliff (Ben), Alexander Shames Behr, Eliot Itzkow Behr, Isadora Ailene Behr, and Sofina Elizabeth Behr, one great-granddaughter, Olivia Kay Ratliff, his sisters, Daryl Behr Nemo (Sandy) and Zelda Behr Tenenbaum (Sheldon), brothers-in-law, Dr. Randall Edward (Randy) Hughes, Earl (Bubba) Bagley (Jane), Harris Bagley (Fran), Stanley Crawford (Jenny), step-daughters, Julie Evetts Clarke, Amy Evetts Harders (Greg), and Tracey Gaitani, step-son, Ward Chewning, III (Gerrie Ann), nieces, Deborah Ziegenhorn (Eric), Jessica Tenenbaum (Richard Davis), nephew, Benjamin Nemo, step-grandchildren, Regan and Connor Chewning and Sarah and Michael Gaitani, as well as extended family and friends. 

Jake knew no strangers. From an early age, Jake embraced responsibility. During elementary school, Jake worked afternoons and summers in the family store, Behr’s, stacking hangers and opening boxes of merchandise, learning to greet customers by name and serve their needs. As Jake aged, his parents saw much potential in him and in the spirit of what’s best, they enrolled him in Riverside Military Academy for his junior high school years. Campuses in both Gainesville, GA and Hollywood, FL meant that Jake left LaGrange for months at a time, and while he sorely missed his family and friends, he obliged and thrived. 

When he returned home for his freshman year in high school, Jake embraced his life with the enthusiasm and vigor he exuded until his final days. Almost daily, Jake made breakfast for his siblings and got them off to school before he headed to LaGrange High School where he was a student from 1952-55. At LHS, he was a drummer in the marching band, serving as President of the band his senior year. After high school graduation, Jake marched his way a few hours north to Athens, GA and enrolled in the University of Georgia where he began to cultivate his skills of relationship building and leadership. Jake pledged Phi Epsilon Pi fraternity and was in the BIFTAD Freshman Honorary Society. He later served as President of his Phi Epsilon Pi Social Fraternity, President of Interfraternity Council, and President of Alpha Phi Omega Boy Scout Fraternity. He was elected to the UGA Student Council from the School of Business Administration, later serving as President of the UGA Student Council. He was in the Phi Kappa Literary Society and was a member of The University of Georgia’s Gridiron Secret Society, in which he actively participated until a few years before his death. In the fall of his freshman year, Jake met Kay Itzkow from Thomson, GA. The two became inseparable, studying at the business school, attending fraternity parties and football games, where Jake was a drummer in the Redcoat Marching Band, and visiting family in Thomson and LaGrange. They graduated in the spring of 1959 and were married September 6, 1959. Jake’s leadership aspirations were always tied to the service of others, and he took the step to enroll in the Army, spending six months at Fort Benning, GA with his new bride. 

Realizing he was needed in the family business, which was expanding, Jake resigned from his rank as Lieutenant in the United States Army and in 1960 he and Kay moved to Dothan, AL where he became an active member of the Alabama National Guard, achieving the rank of Captain after many years of service. During his 29 years in Dothan, Jake built relationships and led the community in many ways. From 1960-80, Jake was Owner Operator of Behr’s Inc, in both Dothan and LaGrange, operating five women’s retail clothing stores. 

He was president of Dothan Downtown Merchants Association, President of Dothan Jaycees, Vice-President of Alabama Jaycees, and City Commissioner for Dothan’s Ward 4.  Jake and family were members of the Dothan Country Club and Temple Emanu-El where he served as Temple President from 1967-70 and as Temple Treasurer from 1971-79. By the time Jake closed his stores in 1980, his greatest commodity was his Rolodex, and he began to build his legacy on those relationships. He worked for a short time with Dothan Auto Parts and established his own Amway Distributorship, keying in on the Zig Ziglar phrase, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” In 1981, Jake was contacted by an insurance company looking to hire long time policy holders as potential new agents. Since he had held a policy since 1951, Jake was an ideal candidate to learn the insurance business and serve his current community by building generational legacies for families through investments. While he enjoyed the occasional round of golf, the beach with his family, and his boat, Jake’s sport was his personal work and the work he could do for his community. His love was investing in families and their futures. He led an energetic social and civic life in Dothan until he left in 1989 and was divorced. 

Years later, Jake reconnected with his LaGrange High School sweetheart, Nancy Bagley Evetts, who had been widowed, and the two married in August 1998, in Springfield, VA, later returning home to LaGrange in 2005 for good. Back in LaGrange, Jake again rooted his social and civic work in his relationships. He became a Rotarian, an honor he held highly. He was on the Board of Directors, Chairman of the Membership Committee, Veterans Day Program Chair, and he served on the Golf Tournament Committee which benefited the Rotary Youth Challenge Program. He was awarded the Paul Harris Fellow Award twice, the Walter Y. Murphy Fellow Award, and the International Membership Silver Award. Jake began attending, with Nancy, First United Methodist Church, where the two enjoyed attending Sunday services and singing hymns. Never missing a chance to dance or enjoy music, Jake and Nancy became active with the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra, where Jake was on the Development Committee, the Membership Committee, and was on the Board of Directors. The two embraced their hometown friends like family, enjoying membership in the Highland Country Club from 2005-09, often acting like the teenage heartthrobs they were until Nancy’s death in 2009. 

A new chapter began for Jake when he took over the longtime LaGrange publication, ‘Round and Bout’ in 2010 and expanded it from an eight-page welcome brochure to his quarterly 50-plus page book, highlighting events and businesses in the greater Troup County community. Jake continued his civic work, serving on the Camp Viola and Troup County Historical Society Board of Directors and was on the Chattahoochee District Council for Boy Scouts of America. He served on the LaGrange Troup County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors as Membership Committee Chair, and was named Diplomat of the Year in 2012, always promoting LaGrange, one of the loves of his life. God and country were important to Jake and during an annual Veterans Day event held at the Veterans Memorial in LaGrange, he reconnected with Dean Crawford Chewning, the widow of his Callaway Dance Band friend, Ward Chewning, II. The two began a sweet friendship and romance that led to marriage June 14, 2018. Together, the two attended two churches for a while, Dean’s First Baptist Church on the Square and Jake’s First United Methodist, often discussing weekly sermons with family and friends. At FUMC, he was a Sunday School teacher, Chair of the Evangelism Committee, Assistant Coordinator of Thursday Lunch Club, and Program Chair of Methodist Men’s Club. 

He was also a member of Gideons International and spoke often in the community about his evolving faith and commitment to service of others. Together, Dean and Jake delivered ‘Round and ‘Bout to racks located in greater southwest Georgia and southeastern Alabama, returning home late in the day to circle Lafayette Square. Jake worked behind the scenes with Dr. Richard Ingram to establish the Lafayette Alliance, a tribute to the namesake of Lagrange, Marquis de Lafayette, who, like Jake, stood for “courage, friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, perseverance, and advocacy for the rights of all persons.” Eventually, Jake took on another constant companion, an oxygen canister, and he bravely carried that with him on sales calls and to many weekly meetings until he began to work remotely from his home office. From his desktop computer and his iPhone, Jake managed and published ‘Round and ‘Bout until he retired in 2021. Jake was honored by the City of LaGrange in August 2021 with a celebration and the dedication of a bench on Lafayette Square near the spot where the family store once stood. Jake exemplified the meaning of positive attitude, using his iPhone until the end to communicate with family and friends, and live out his life creed he adopted from his time with the Jaycees: Service to humanity is the best work of life. A Memorial Service for Jake will be held Saturday, January 28, 2023, at 12 noon at First United Methodist Church, 401 Broad Street, LaGrange, GA, with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, please consider contributing in Jake’s name to LaGrange First United Methodist Church, The Gideons International LaGrange Chapter, Congregation Beth El (congregationbethel@hotmail.com or PO Box 3813, LaGrange, GA 30241), or the nonprofit organization of your choice. Higgins Funeral Home at Hunter Allen Myhand, 706-884-5626.