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Archive for Sunday, May 31, 1998

UNDERSHERIFF READY FOR RETIREMENT SHIFT

May 31, 1998

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Don Schwartz has carried a badge for the Douglas County Sheriff's Department for 37 years, but he'll keep busy on the farm after his retirement in June.

Don Schwartz has been on the business end of pistols, shotguns and rifles in his 37 years with the Douglas County Sheriff's Department, and a woman he was trying to evict once chased him with an ax.

But Schwartz was most frightened when he tussled with a ``fellow'' who tried to take a bat to him at a now-defunct bar in the county near Baldwin Junction.

``I forget what it was about, but he had me backed up against a wall,'' said Schwartz, who will be retiring as undersheriff on June 12 without a single job-related injury.

Times have changed since he started as a deputy, often serving as a dispatcher in the jail that stood between the courthouse and the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center in the 100 block of East 11th.

``Back then I felt good about talking to kids, but the officers today don't have that same real chance of talking to juveniles and parents,'' Schwartz said recently from his second-floor office at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

``Ten or 12 years later, I'd have kids come back to thank me. I felt that I made a difference in those juveniles' lives,'' he said.

Violence is nothing new for law enforcement officers, but suspects are now more prone to settling things with a gun instead of fists or knives.

``Back then, you'd have a fight and two days later you would be buddies again,'' he said. ``But today, you get mad and shoot them. That's it.''

Government worker

By the time he was 25, Schwartz had worked for governments ranging from the school board for the Union School District to an employee of the federal Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service. He hauled rock and plowed roads for the Willow Springs Township, where he has lived on the family farm all his life.

On his 21st birthday -- May 20, 1957 -- Schwartz was on duty as a Kansas Highway Patrol dispatcher when the Ruskin Heights tornado tore through the area south of Kansas City.

``I was 21 years old, and to call out the National Guard, I thought that was neat,'' said Schwartz, who followed the 18-month dispatching stint with a job making rocket fuel at the Callery Chemical plant off North Iowa Street.

He was sworn in as a deputy in January 1962 and patrolled the county, sometimes hitting all four corners in a shift and racking up 200 miles on the odometer.

``I suppose the hottest car I ever drove was that '63 Dodge with 440 horsepower,'' Schwartz said. ``The car I drive now is more comfortable, but that was a hot car. It would throw you back in the seat when you pushed on the pedal.''

Radio technology back then wasn't exactly state-of-the-art, and the sheriff's department shared the same frequency as Kansas University police and Lawrence police. In the summer, local police radios caught transmissions from the Los Angeles Police Department, an oil field in Mexico and a police station on the East Coast.

Schwartz said he learned how to be ``bold and brave'' from Sheriff Fred Broeker, who held the office from 1961 to 1965, how to communicate with juveniles from Sheriff Rex Johnson (1965-1988) and the ``finesse'' of being a law enforcement officer from current Sheriff Loren Anderson.

Through all the calls Schwartz has responded to, from fights to criminal trespass reports at the former nudist colony near Clinton Lake, he's remained calm.

``I guess the funny thing around here is that the strongest language he ever uses is `gosh darn,' and when he gets to that, he's really upset,'' said Lt. Don Crowe, who's known Schwartz about 30 years.

Capt. Bill Shephard said Schwartz is ``firm but fair.''

``I've enjoyed working with him,'' Shephard said. ``He always has an easygoing attitude.''

Retirement plans

Schwartz and his wife, Jane, will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary Monday, and he plans to see familiar faces from the sheriff's department, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, police department and Kansas Highway Patrol during an anniversary banquet Friday night.

Jane Schwartz is also retiring after 12 years as a librarian, cook and nurse's aide in Baldwin schools. Before that, she was a teacher and substitute teacher in the area.

On his last day at work, June 12, there will be a reception from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the jury assembly room in the basement of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

The Schwartzes will continue to farm on the homestead -- the second-oldest family farm in Douglas County -- and Don Schwartz said he might consider adding cattle to his soybean, corn and brome hay operation. His children -- a salesman at Heritage Tractor in Baldwin, a school teacher in Lenexa and a nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital -- sometimes help out on the farm. The Schwartzes have six grandchildren.

``My dad was a fisherman, but I get nervous when I fish because there's too many other things I could be doing,'' he said.

A self-proclaimed ``Branson freak,'' Schwartz added that he plans more trips to Missouri.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is ckoger@ljworld.com.

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