Ice cream was the furthest thing from Military Police Sgt. Eric Conde’s mind when he was patrolling the streets of Baghdad in 2003. Root beer floats? Occasional treats, but not something that came up all that often in his busy life as a Dallas Police Department community liaison representative, husband, father of two, and active church member. It’s a bit ironic, then, that a man who has said “freeze” off and on for two decades is now whipping up banana splits for appreciative CliffDwellers. Conde is so at ease behind the counter at Papa Danny’s, the old-fashioned ice cream parlor he opened last fall with his wife, Diana, that visitors to the Bishop Arts District may have a hard time picturing him doing anything else. Families who live in the area, though, know him well as the officer who oversees a host of programs for neighborhood kids out of the DPD’s Bishop Street Storefront office. And then there’s his history of military service and post-9/11 tour of active duty.
It takes a while to get the scoop on Sgt. Conde, the Oak Cliff native and sundae…er…Sunday-school teacher now working overtime to make Bishop Arts even cooler. As literally thousands of young Dallasites can attest, though, it’s well worth the effort.
Family affair Conde — who named Papa Danny’s after his belated father, Daniel John Conde, Sr. — is, first and foremost, a family man. Pull up one of his brightly-colored barstools and strike up a conversation, and it doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes for him to mention his wife, Diana, who works the counter many nights and over the one weekend a month he trains with the Army Reserves. Or tell a story about his children, 11-year-old Christian or seven-year-old Mary Hannah. Or reference his mother and fellow entrepreneur Mary Jane Conde, well-known to longtime CliffDwellers as the creative force behind Flowers by Conde, at the corner of Madison and Twelfth. That sense of family permeates everything he does, and is one of the biggest reasons he enjoys his role as a community liaison officer so much.
Conde’s work on behalf of DPD, which he joined after a three-year stint in the Army and three years at Mountain View Junior College, covers a broad range of youth initiatives, including scouting programs, after-school activities and organized sports. He helps about 120 kids a year, some of whom are referred by local schools and many who find their way to the storefront from nearby homes and apartments. “I really love working with kids,” he enthuses. “I started back in the ‘80s as a volunteer coach for St. Cecilia’s, and I really can’t imagine doing anything else — unless, maybe, it would be directing a recreation center.”
Since Conde started on the force 19 years ago, he has counseled, mentored, or simply had fun with more than 100 kids a year in need of support and friendship — and he attributes his success to being open about some of his own experiences growing up. Oak Cliff’s newly-minted King of Ice Cream is dyslexic, and he freely admits his struggles to cope with his learning differences and graduate from Sunset High School. “It was hard,” he shares. “It’s still hard sometimes. I started work as a community liaison officer because I had so much trouble with my report-writing when I first joined the force in 1988. They recognized this, so they reassigned me in 1989 to run the after-school program at Ervay in Old City Park. I definitely tell the kids about it. They’re not the only ones who have trouble with school.”
That reassignment would prove to be a fortuitous match of assignment and inclination. From Old City Park, Conde was transferred to East Dallas, running youth programs at Bryan and Peak — and, then, in 2004, back to Bishop, “back to the neighborhood where I was raised,” he explains. “I know this place well, and everybody knows me and my family. Somebody’s always saying, ‘Oh, you’re one of those Conde boys,’ or ‘Oh, yeah, you’re Danny’s son.’ Yeah. It’s nice.”
What Conde enjoys most about his work is knowing that he’s having an impact on a kid’s life. “I don’t care how the kid got here, whether he was referred or whether he found his way here by accident, I can work with them,” he relates. “As long as they come to me and have that little gleam in their eye, I can see that little bit of hope. I’ll have a kid come in and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t get detention today,’ after 30 days of detention. I’ll take it.”
Tour of duty
If you’re a believer in karma, you might say that the Bishop storefront post came to Conde as something of a reward for his service in one of the toughest neighborhoods on the planet, the streets of Baghdad. Early in 2003, Conde, who has served in the Army reserves since the mid-‘80s, was called to active duty at the start of the Iraq war. “I knew after 9/11 it was a real possibility,” he recalls. Although he had trained monthly since his marriage in 1991, the news still came as a bit of a shock. “It was tough,” asserts Diana. “He started saying, ‘You know, I could be called up any day,’ and, then, he was.”
As tough as the deployment was on Conde, whose nephew is also on active duty, it was even harder on his son. “The kids were younger back then,” Diana explains. “He was gone out of the house for a year-and-half. It didn’t really affect my daughter as much as my son, Christian. He began to have physical pain related to his daddy being gone. He had these terrible stomach pains. We had him tested, and it turned out that he had worry pains, he missed his father so badly.”
Not long after his return from Iraq, Conde’s father passed away. “He was sick when I left,” he recalls. “He had lots of ailments, but he was so proud of me.” Conde, Sr. used to sit on his porch for hours. “People would ask him, ‘What are you waiting for?’, and he would say, ‘I’m waiting for my boys to come back from Iraq,’” Eric recalls. “He made it until after I got back, and a lot of people say that’s why he made it that long.”
Conde, who spent a year in-country patrolling the streets as a military policeman, is slated for retirement from the Army this fall — and Diana lives daily with the possibility that he could be called up again between now and then. “He’s still in the reserves,” she says. “Every time somebody asks me I say, ‘I hope to God he doesn’t get called up’ because, as he and I have discussed, it’s a different war now.”