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Deputy helps friend's family

December 23, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

Editor's note: This series over the 12 days before Christmas recognizes those who make the holidays better for others.

pepperb@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - This is the first Christmas that Washington County Sheriff's Department Deputy 1st Class Danny Watson's family members will be without him, but Joe Keller, a county police dispatcher, has made sure their Christmas is not without gifts.

Watson left this summer for Iraq, where he is serving with a U.S. Naval Reserves Mobile Construction unit, said Keller, who's been employed by the department for nearly 11 years.

The deputy's departure has "been rough" on his wife and two children, so Keller decided in November that he would make sure the family was not forgotten in the rush of the holiday season.

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His idea resulted in $1,000 worth of donations from county employees and friends. Keller used the money to buy Christmas gift certificates for the family.

"They don't have their father for Christmas and she doesn't have her husband," Keller, 31, of Cascade, said.

"I couldn't see just focusing on him and ignoring his family," he said. "They're just as big a part of this department as he is."

Since September, Keller has been sending Watson care packages filled with donations from within the department. He also plans to send packages to Watson this Christmas.

Keller and Watson in 1998 attended the Frederick Police Department police academy, where they trained together to become Washington County deputies.

Although Keller's back problems forced him to quit patrol work, he returned to his former position as a police dispatcher at the department and maintained a friendship with Watson.

In November, Keller, after consulting with his wife, approached the county government to see if solicitation of donations for Watson's family would be allowed.

He obtained approval and "The response was overwhelming," he said.

Keller said $718 was collected in one day.

Keller said he plans this morning to take the family a donated $60 gift certificate for Schmankerl Stube, $150 gift certificates for Toys R Us for each of Watson's children, Quentin, 9, and Carissa, 6; a $250 Target gift certificate for Watson's wife, Coleen; gift certificates for groceries and pizza; and a gift certificate that can be used anywhere.

Keller's Christmas spirit has rubbed off on his 3-year-old daughter, Amanda, who knows only that Watson is "a friend who's far, far away."

Recently, after Amanda was put to bed at 8:30 p.m., she sneaked out of her bedroom and, with paper and markers, made a card for Watson. Then she asked if her dad "could put it in the mailbox," he said.

Watson, after receiving Amanda's gift, told Keller, "Tell your daughter thanks for the card" and said the sight of it "made him tear up."

Friday: Nellie Hull of Hagerstown.

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