· My Dad, the Sheriff
It’s Sunday afternoon, January 10, 1943, at the home of Juanita Mae Chambers Ankerholz and Guy Leo Ankerholz, 829 East 6th Avenue, Hutchinson, Kansas. Their daughter, Dona “DeNean,” 10, is writing a school report that’s due the next day.
“Mom,” said DeNean, “my teacher said we should write on something, but not everything.”
“She’s correct, you want people to learn about a topic. You’re writing about your father being Reno County sheriff for the last four years. What will your class learn about him from your report?”
“One of the boys, who saw Dad walking, asked me if he had been shot in the leg by a bootlegger or a bank robber.
“In my story, I’m explaining that Dad has never been shot, that his hip fused together in a sitting position after he got blood poisoning when he was just eight years old. I’m also telling them that even though my dad can’t fight in the war, he helps protect people in Reno County from criminals.”
“Very good,” said Juanita. “He’s never had to shoot anyone, either. You know Dad; he thinks he can talk himself out of any trouble.”
“When I interviewed him, he said one reason he got elected was his smile,” said DeNean. “Dad said that when he was young, he learned that if you wanted to be popular, you had to smile. As sheriff, he’d rather flash his smile than a gun. I’m also writing that most of the time as sheriff he doesn’t carry his gun or handcuffs, but he does keep them in the car, just in case.
“Dad has said that he thinks it would be braggadocio to show his gun in public,” continued DeNean. “He said that’s like bragging.”
“Yes,” agreed Juanita. “Your father sees displaying a gun as boasting, and that it’s a weakness of character. Your father’s character has made him an outstanding peace officer. Because of his disability, I think he also shows more compassion than others.
“He cares about people, DeNean, even criminals. I’ve heard him say that even though a man’s a criminal, he’s still a man. He’s a human being.”
“Dad said that some of his best friends are criminals and that sometimes it’s from them he gets good information to solve crimes and make arrests.
“Mom, Dad also told me that when he grew up on the farm northeast of Sylvia, he didn’t know any colored people. He said that after Sheriff Brown hired him, his boss gave him a lesson about treating everyone fairly.
“One night, Dad went to visit the sheriff at the old jail on East B. After Dad got out of his car, a colored man, who was loud and drunk, came up to Dad and put his arm around him. To get away from the man, Dad said he wasn’t too polite.
“When Dad got up the steps, Sheriff Fay Brown gave his new office clerk a lecture. He said, ‘If you’re going to work in public office, you’re going to have to learn that coloreds are just the same as you are.’
“Dad said: ‘From then on, I treated people of all colors the same. That’s one of the things I hadn’t learned on the farm.’”
“Did Dad remind you about when he rammed his sheriff’s car into a getaway car that had two heavily armed criminals in it after a hold up?” asked Juanita. “That was just a couple of years ago on Thanksgiving. Do you remember it?”
“I remember he had to leave our turkey dinner,” said DeNean, “but now that I’m writing about it, I need more details. Dad said that a lot of lawmen were chasing the vehicle and shooting at it. It had a dozen bullet holes in it after it crashed. Somehow, no one was hurt.”
“That’s right,” agreed Juanita. “Your Dad sideswiped the other car and forced it off the road, causing it to roll on its side. The newspaper called it courageous and daring, but when I heard about it, I nearly fainted thinking about how your father could have been injured or killed in the wreck.”
“Dad asked me to mention that in his two terms in office, a total of four years, not a single prisoner has escaped from the county jail. Dad said that before the present courthouse was built, there were a lot of escapes in the old, worn-out jail.”
“Yes, there were still escapes when your dad worked for Sheriff Brown in the courthouse. Is there anything else you want in your story?”
“I don’t think so. Dad told me about the first time he met you and how, for him, it was love at first sight. I don’t think I need to include that in this paper. I’m writing on something, not everything.”
“You’re right, honey; that’s personal, but I’m glad Daddy shared that with you. When I met him in 1927, he had recently been hired by Sheriff Brown to be his office clerk. I was only 16 when we met, and 17 when we married.
Donald, 6, entered the room, yawning and rubbing his sleepy eyes as he approached Juanita. “Mom, I’m hungry, can I have some more of your cherry pie?”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.