As a teen growing up in Onida, South Dakota, Jerry Seaman’s two professional love interests were trucking and football.
He’d driven his first truck when he was 12 years old, hauling goods farm-to-market for his father’s trucking company, Seaman Trucking.
He escaped the arm of the law while driving under-age — until one day in Kansas when, at age 16, he was stopped by an officer.
“My mom had to drive my dad all the way down there to bring the truck back to Onida,” he said with a sheepish tone in his voice.
Seaman was an outstanding middle linebacker for Onida High School and went to the University of Nebraska, hoping to become successful on the gridiron. During his freshman year however, a running back clipped him in both knees, shattering any dreams he had of becoming another Dick Butkus, the famed Chicago Bear linebacker.
“I spent my 19th birthday learning to walk again,” he recalled with remorse in his voice as he spoke to The Trucker.
With football removed from the equation, a professional career path was now determined. Seaman settled in as a driver for Stan’s, a family-owned and -managed trucking business in Alpena, South Dakota, where he spent nearly 38 years hauling liquid feed and grain — and where he was looked to as a leader appointed to help make company decisions regarding equipment and operations.
To date, Seaman has racked up more than 5 million accident-free miles combined driving for Stan’s and NTA Trucking LTD, where he went to work after a brief retirement.
“It’s not much fun to sit in the garage and watch everybody drive by,” he said with a chuckle. “I sat in that garage and watched people drive by for about two days and I said, ‘This isn’t for me.’”
Because his successful and safe career, Seaman was named one of two TravelCenters of America (TA-Petro) Citizen Driver Award winners for 2020.
TA-Petro created the award to recognize professional drivers who demonstrate traits that bring a high level of respect to the truck-driving profession, including good citizenship, safety, health and wellness, community involvement and leadership.
In making the award, TA-Petro cited Seaman as a “dedicated Sunday school teacher, Sunday school director, worship leader and music director” and applauding his devotion to the Special Olympics. Seaman has been part of the South Dakota Convoy for Special Olympics since its inception in 2002.
You could call it happenstance when you talk about how Seaman wound up at Stan’s as he launched his career as a professional truck driver.
“I had a family, and I was worried about making enough money to feed everybody,” he said, adding that he and his wife, Wilma, have a son and a daughter. “So, we were down there (in Alpena), where my wife had some relatives. I’m not much to stand around an auction, so I got the pickup and took my daughter and we went for a drive.”
He passed by Stan’s, stopped, walked in, found the owner and inquired about a job.
“I asked him what he had going on and he said, ‘More than I can get done,’” Seaman said. “So, two weeks later, on a Monday morning, I went to work there and stayed there until I retired (the first time).”
Now, at age 68, Seaman’s admiration for his chosen profession has not waned.
“I just love everything about trucking,” he said. “I love to see the country. I love the people. I love working with the cops. I love helping new drivers learn how to drive to help them get better.”
He also enjoys truck-driving championships.
In competitions over the years, he’s won a Grand Champion award and Rookie of the Year Award; he has also received a first-place finish in a 5-axle van class.
“I enjoy helping others become better truck drivers, and especially I like helping raise money for Special Olympics,” he noted. “I like to be right in the middle of the kids involved in the special Olympics.”
In fact, one of Seaman’s most cherished awards is the Athlete’s Choice Award, given to him at the South Dakota Convoy and Truck Show benefitting the Special Olympics.
One highly visible reward for being honored as a Citizen Driver is that TA-Petro allows the honoree to choose a TA or Petro location to be named after him or her.
Seaman chose the TA Express in Vermillion, South Dakota, the fourth former Coffee Cup Fuel Stop that TA has opened as a TA Express location as the result of an agreement signed with Heinz Inc. Seaman is very familiar with the location.
“My wife, being the bookkeeper, called me one day and said, ‘Do you realize you’ve bought over 100,000 gallons of fuel from Coffee Cup in your lifetime?’” Seaman said.
After being married to him 43 years, Seaman said, his wife has nicknamed his truck “Mistress.”
“She told me, ‘You can’t be married to somebody this long and watch him be glad to go to work and not know they have another love,’” Seaman said.
So how much longer before he hangs up the keys for good?
“I don’t know,” he said. “But as long as my health is good and my wife’s health is good, why would I want to quit when I’m having this much fun?”