Anthony Jacobs retires as school district’s famous singing security officer

Anthony “Tony” Jacobs is retiring after 20 years as a district resource officer at Vancouver Public Schools. He is known for singing in the hallways and having an encouraging word for everyone. Photo by Paul Valencia
Anthony “Tony” Jacobs is retiring after 20 years as a district resource officer at Vancouver Public Schools. He is known for singing in the hallways and having an encouraging word for everyone. Photo by Paul Valencia

Jacobs used his voice for good as resource officer at Vancouver Public Schools

It was an assembly to honor everyone associated with the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, an end of the year celebration. 

There were cheers for all.

One person got a little extra attention.

Anthony “Tony” Jacobs is retiring after this school year.

Officially, he is a district resource officer for Vancouver Public Schools. He is known more for being the Singing Security Guard.

For years, Jacobs has been using his voice to ease tensions at high schools throughout the district. He would sing in the halls. Sing in the classrooms. Eventually, he would sing at school functions, as well.

Jacobs has a stun gun and other equipment he is required to have with him on the job, but his voice was his greatest tool he used on the job while working with students.

“Just to bring a smile to their face, to make them feel much better inside,” Jacobs said. 

As we learned Thursday at VSAA, he meant so much more to the students than just the man in uniform who can carry a tune.

Mahalia Champney, a student at VSAA, was one of the presenters Thursday who gave a gift to Jacobs. She also wrote a message that she read.

“I’ve seen your heart shine toward the students of VSAA. You are not the kind of person who is nice to just a couple of kids. You find joy in every single student here,” Champney said. “You turn our downcast eyes and turn them into smiling ones. You find a pinprick of joy on a rainy day and somehow make it overflow, distributing enough light to make our day brighter.”

Champney confidently said she can speak for the whole school:

“You remind us we are not invisible. You remind us that there is kindness in a crumbling humanity.”

Jacobs tried, but failed, to hold back tears.

A week earlier, he predicted his final day was going to be tough. He has his 20 years with Vancouver Public Schools. Beyond his day job, he was also an assistant coach in football and basketball in his days at Fort Vancouver and Hudson’s Bay. He also has been a basketball official for youth games for more than 40 years.

His joy is serving young people.

“I guess I was a different kind of a security guard,” Jacobs said.

Really, he was just being himself. He first started working security at VPS with a job at Fort Vancouver. He would then spend 12 years at Hudson’s Bay before returning to Fort Vancouver, and for the last two years, he was at VSAA.

While walking the hallways, he would sing. “My Girl” and “What’s Going On” are his favorite songs to sing. He appreciates “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang, as well.

Tony Jacobs wore this shirt and medal during an end-of-school-year celebration at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics. Retiring after this school year, Jacobs was honored by students there who admired his passion for the job and for the students he protected. Photo by Paul Valencia
Tony Jacobs wore this shirt and medal during an end-of-school-year celebration at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics. Retiring after this school year, Jacobs was honored by students there who admired his passion for the job and for the students he protected. Photo by Paul Valencia

Candy Morrison, who was a music teacher at Hudson’s Bay, heard his voice and noticed how the students were drawn to Jacobs. She asked him to sing at the school’s talent show. 

He was a hit.

The next year, Morrison asked again. Jacobs said yes, but tragedy struck the school. Morrison died unexpectedly. Ever since then, Jacobs has hosted singing nights at Hudson’s Bay and at Fort Vancouver in memory of Morrison.

He loves Motown and R&B. Mavin Gaye. The Temptations. Stevie Wonder. Jacobs performs their hits with a passion. 

“A little James Brown, too,” he said. ‘Even at 66 years old, I still got a little bit.”

One of his first brushes with fame came long before the person became famous. As a student at Franklin High School in Seattle, he started singing. Another student asked Jacobs to join the choir. Jacobs declined. (At that time, he was more into football and basketball than music.) The student who asked him to join the choir? Turned out to be Kenny G.

Kenny G. might be world famous, but Tony Jacobs is locally famous. And Jacobs appreciates all who appreciate his style.

That would include Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who also showed her support Thursday at VSAA.

“Just looking back on it all, I’m just so glad that teachers gave me the opportunity to go into a classroom and really see how the students were feeling. Just go in and start singing,” Jacobs said.

By being more than just “security,” Jacobs was able to get to know the students. At one point, he started a food pantry for students in need. With the help of sponsors, he helped feed students during the holiday breaks, students who weren’t getting food when school was out for Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example.

When he first started as a DRO, he and his colleagues were in plain clothes. Jacobs said he was styling, while also wearing sunglasses. The students called him Hollywood. Soon, a new mandate from the bosses. Security would have to wear uniforms. Jacobs balked at the idea at first.

“I said I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do that,” Jacobs recalled. “The kids relate to me. They tell me stories. If I start wearing this, they might be ‘Oh no.’ I didn’t think it would work.”

He was convinced to give it a try.

It turned out to be no problem.

“They still talked to me. More than before,” Jacobs said.

It’s the person wearing the uniform. Not the uniform.

“My main objective is to keep the school safe and at the same time have a little fun with the kids and not be that hammer,” Jacobs said. “When I have to get stern, boom, I will. But not too many times.”

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerney-Ogle also showed up for Tony Jacobs’ final day on the job. Photo by Paul Valencia
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerney-Ogle also showed up for Tony Jacobs’ final day on the job. Photo by Paul Valencia

His alert level raises, though, whenever he sees someone come on to school grounds, someone he does not recognize.

“These are my children,” he said, referring to the students.

He is, literally, on guard for them.

Of course, there have also been times when he has had to detain his own students. All in an effort to keep the entire school safe.

But even when having to be stern, as he says, he had a way about him that inspired others. Even students who got in trouble admired Jacobs.

As evidenced by one story Jacobs loves to tell.

Jacobs was talking to a student who had contraband on him. Jacobs was waiting for another officer to show up before they were going to take the student away to a safer place. The student, though, saw it coming, and he took off running, trying to escape from Jacobs.

In foot pursuit, Jacobs went after the student.

“All of a sudden, I took a dip. I tumbled. I rolled,” Jacobs said. 

The student had run across the street, looked back, and saw Jacobs on the ground.

“He was nice. He turned around and said, “Jacobs, man, I’m sorry. Are you OK?’ Every time I go to Bay, I think of that.”

This week ends his 20 years with Vancouver Public Schools, at least in an official capacity.

From time to time, he said, he hopes to come back to campus to check in on the students.

“I want to be able to stay in contact with them,” he said.

Because they will always remember him. 

A smile on his face, a song in his heart.


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