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Rural Missouri Magazine

 

Republic's Officer
78-year cop just can't retire from the job he loves

by Heather Berry

You hear him before you see him.

Like Mayberry's Andy Griffith, Chuck Garner comes whistling down the sidewalk and saunters into the Republic police station. One of the first things you notice about Chuck is the way he carries himself and the warm smile he offers everyone. You'd never guess this wiry, spry man is 78 years old and still serving as a police officer.

"My law enforcement career is her fault," says Chuck jokingly, while giving a nod to his wife, Marcella. "We were newlyweds and I drove a bus cross-country for a living. After a few months, she told me that she didn't marry me to be alone and that I should get a different job. So I did.

"I heard the police department in Springfield was hiring so I walked in and said 'I'd like to be a police officer.' The chief asked me if I had any experience and I said ÔNope, not one bit.' "

By that time, young Chuck had already served his country for four years in World War II landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day as part of a combat engineering battalion. And that was all the Springfield police chief needed to hear to know Chuck would be a good man to have working for the community.

He joined the force in 1949 and when Uncle Sam called again, he served his country during the Korean War. His efforts during both campaigns garnered Chuck two Purple Hearts.

When he returned, he went to work for the Green County Sheriff's Department and then for the U.S. Department of Justice, traveling to various riots during the 1960s.

After that harrowing experience, Chuck signed on to the Republic police force. He's been there 15 years and isn't showing any signs of stopping.

He tried to retire before — at least three times.

"In the mid-1970s I quit and pulled an 18-wheeler on a run coast-to-coast," says Chuck. "But even then I missed law enforcement, so I came back."

Although he's never been shot during police action, Chuck has had a few close calls. Republic, population nearly 7,000, hasn't had a bank robbery in quite awhile, but Chuck remembers one incident like it was yesterday.

"It was 1959 and I worked for the Sheriff's Department in Green County then. I was washing my car at home when I heard the radio say there'd been a bank robbery in Republic," recalls Chuck.

"It just so happened that the three guys who robbed the bank came out and their car wouldn't start, so they took off on foot. So I jumped in my car and when I got to the edge of town, I saw a guy running through an orchard acting like he was trying to hide. I ran out there and there he was — bank bag in hand."

He also recalls a night many years ago when he was watching for speeders along Highway 65. He pulled over a driver racing down the road. "I walked up to the guy and said 'Where do you think you're going in such a hurry?'"

While the man replied, Chuck saw a bottle of whiskey in the seat beside him and a loaded .38 which was cocked and pointed at him.

"I tried to ignore the gun and just kept talking," said Chuck. "When he reached to pull the door latch I jerked him out of the car by his hair and my boot came down on the wrist holding the gun."

He later found out the car had been stolen, a fact he wished he knew before he walked up to the vehicle.

Chuck currently works 30 hours a week as one of Republic's reserve officers. His days usually consist of patrolling the neighborhoods and businesses. He's always on the watch for speeders, especially in school zones. But Chuck isn't trying to add to Republic's coffers.

"I've never been much of a ticket writer," says Chuck, who hasn't written a speeding ticket in nearly six years. "Oh, I stop people, but all I ever found is that speeding tickets make people mad because you're getting into their billfolds. That usually doesn't stop them from speeding either. I'd rather talk to them. I'm out here to serve the people, not make them mad."

However, Chuck says if the situation requires a ticket, you're getting one. And, he says, the quickest way to get a ticket is to argue with him.

Chuck brings an old-fashioned approach to a profession that has drifted away from the concept of community policing.

"He's from the old school. He's worked up through the ranks," says Republic Police Chief Sam Hartsell.

Chuck says his 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift is getting a little harder to take as the years go by, but it's the shift he chose and still loves. But Hartsell says his senior officer is as fit as any of the others, each of whom goes through routine physical training and target practice on a regular basis.

"There isn't a situation I would hesitate sending Officer Garner on," says Hartsell.

Hartsell says there's only one thing he's ever heard Chuck complain about and that's working on the computer. True, Chuck says he hates working an accident for 30 minutes, only to do 2 hours of computer work. But he realizes that's part of the job today.

Chief Hartsell and other state officials believe Chuck to be the oldest active-duty officer in the Midwest, although there are no official records to support that.

If you ask him if he's ever going to really retire, he just chuckles. "I love what I do," says Chuck. "When I get into my patrol car, I don't have the slightest idea what's going to happen that day — and I like that."

Rural Missouri magazine - April 2014 issue
 
 
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