Sgt. Bob Beres had a more harrowing childhood than most people. He was born in a refugee camp in Austria, after his parents fled Hungary in 1971 in hopes of making a better life.
He’s now commander of the S.C. Highway Patrol’s community relations unit. He said he was too young to remember the flight to JFK Airport that landed Aug. 10, 1972, but that he’s proud of his parents.
They arrived in the U.S. 44 years ago with just $500, Beres said.
“My dad is from Kisvárda, Hungary,” the 44-year-old trooper said. “It’s right near the Russian border. Even if you went back today, you’d go back 60 years in time.”
His mom is from Pécs – the same city as Olympic swimmer Katinka Hosszu, who recently drew attention for winning three gold medals in four days.
The family settled in Connecticut, where Beres’ younger sister was born. They lived with his uncle before moving to a small, three-room house behind a church in Fairfield, Conn.
“We cleaned the church and took care of the grounds in exchange for living there,” Beres said.
His dad worked construction and his mom did factory work for $2 an hour, Beres said. After a stint of carpentry work out of high school, the young Hungarian-American joined the U.S. Navy.
We were just grateful someone gave us a chance to come over and make something of ourselves.”
S.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. Bob Beres
The military brought him to South Carolina, where he was stationed in Goose Creek. After four years of active service, he went into law enforcement. He’s been with the Highway Patrol since 1994, and said it’s a way to show appreciation for the opportunities that come with living in the country.
“It’s important to give back,” Beres said. “When I think back to when I went back to Hungary and visited my grandmother, my sister and I slept on a potato sack on a dirt floor – with no electricity, no running water.”
Lt. Col. Chris Williamson, currently second-in-command at Highway Patrol, has worked with Beres ever since Beres became a trooper.
“We worked the same troop in Charleston from the time he came on,” Williamson said. “Then in 2003 when I made captain and went to Orangeburg, sometime shortly thereafter, Bob became the community relations officer in Orangeburg.”
Williamson described Beres as loyal, saying the trooper followed him for two more moves – one back to Charleston, and the latest one to Columbia.
At the Highway Patrol, Beres has carved out a niche for himself. He’s known as the trooper who can say just about anything using emojis, and tweets frequently from his account @TrooperBob_SCHP.
Williamson said the sergeant’s talent for communicating with emojis blew his mind, but that it fits with Beres’ personality.
“He speaks Hungarian, English, emoji – if that’s a language,” Williamson said. “You leave it up to Bob. If there’s any way to get through to a person, he will find that way.”
But Beres is more than just a clever communicator. He was chosen as Trooper of the Year for his troop in 2007, after it came to light that he had sold his personal boat so he could give the money to a woman whose house had burned down – and his donation had a domino effect.
“We were able to get a mobile home donated for her for free,” Beres said. “The community came together, gave her money (and) clothes.”
That was in the late 90s. His coworkers didn’t find out about it until years later.
“I didn’t really say anything about it to anyone,” Beres said. “But in 2007, someone in patrol found out about it and put me in for the award.”
The sergeant isn’t the only one in his family to give back. His sister went into law enforcement as well, and works as a detective at a police department in Connecticut, Beres said.
But though he’s open about his family’s history, the trooper said he didn’t want to focus on the politics of immigration when telling his story.
“I can tell you from my family, we were just grateful someone gave us a chance to come over and make something of ourselves,” Beres said.