County law officers gather for reunion

October 17, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Displays of old badges, faded newspapers and a slideshow of old photographs set the memories flowing as a group of about 70 old-timers from the Washington County Sheriff's Department and Detention Center gathered for a reunion Saturday night at the Elks Lodge on Robinwood Drive.

"I haven't seen some of these guys in 25 years," said Kevin Ashburn, 50, of Hagerstown, who worked at the old county jail on Jonathan Street from 1978 to 1983.

Ashburn said he and Lesa Bakner, 56, of Hagerstown, started working to organize a reunion after Lesa's husband, Craig Bakner, another former sheriff's department employee, died last year.

"It was his death that really got us talking about how it's time to have a reunion," Ashburn said. "I said, 'We got to get together because these days are going to be gone.'"


The last sheriff's department reunion Ashburn said he was aware of was about 15 years ago.

Ashburn said when he worked for the sheriff's department, it was much smaller, so the members were very close-knit.

"A lot of us went to school together in high school, and we knew each others' wives and families," he said. "By now, it's a bigger department, so it's a real change."

Bakner, who still works for the detention center, reminisced about how when she started in the jail's records department in 1976, "trustees," or low-risk inmates, used to be sent out on errands such as cashing checks and picking up paperwork from the courthouse -- a practice she said would be out of the question today.

"It's those kinds of memories that we're trying to preserve," she said.

Stu Parsley, who served as director of judicial services under Sheriff Francis R. "Dick" Ford from 1974 to 1978, remembers that era as a time of many changes that built the department into what it is today.

"We had to convince the county to buy new cruisers, new guns," Parsley said, laughing as he recalled the Washington County Commissioners' resistance to a $750,000 budget request. Today, the sheriff's department budget is about $23 million.

Parsley said after leaving the sheriff's department, he worked for Peterbilt Trucks in Tennessee, but he since has retired and lives in Clear Spring.

David Stuller, who joined the sheriff's department in 1967, said he thought he was the person at the reunion with the earliest hire date. He brought a collection of memorabilia that included a pin from when President Eisenhower's daughter came to town and he served as her bodyguard, as well as ID cards, newspapers and a K-9 badge. Stuller said he was the county's first fully-trained K-9 officer.

In 1967, the entire sheriff's department had only 13 members, Stuller said.

"You've gotta realize that we didn't have the population back then," he said. "Washington County was a lot different than what you see today."

Stuller said his shift -- 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. -- was spent mainly dealing with bar fights and disorderlies. Bank robberies were something that only happened in movies, he said.

Stuller said he came home from a tour of the country to attend the reunion and was glad he was able to make it.

"These people are family," he said. "We've been together in good times, we've been together in bad times. We're brothers and sisters. No one can understand that that's never been here."

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