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Retired state trooper now volunteers for Md. DNR

December 14, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • After retiring as a Maryland state trooper with nearly 40 years of service, Richard Poffenberger Sr. is now donating his time as a volunteer with the Department of Natural Resources.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

He has captured bank robbers, helped put a kidnapper behind bars and escorted a President of the United States across Washington County.

So when it came time for Richard W. Poffenberger Sr. to retire, he wasn't sure a life of leisure would suit him.

Not after spending 37 years as a Maryland State Trooper.

So he did what came naturally. He returned to law enforcement.

Poffenberger is a volunteer with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

On any given day - or night - he can be found patrolling the Potomac River or making his way through dark forests at 2 a.m. to catch poachers.

It's just another way the 75-year-old Hagerstown man does what he does best - protecting the community from those who break laws.

Poffenberger said he always wanted to become a state trooper, but after graduating from Hagerstown High School in 1953, his artistic talents landed him a job with Fairchild Aircraft as a technical illustrator.

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"It was a real good job," he said. "I was making great money and had a world of opportunities ahead of me."

But there was one problem.

"I always wanted to be a trooper," he said. "One day I asked myself, 'Do you want to sit at a desk all your life or would you rather be outdoors doing what you really want to do?'"

Poffenberger decided to pursue his dream and in 1960, joined the Maryland State Police.

"I considered it an honor," he said. "That's something that never changed. I always thought it was a privilege to be a state trooper."

Though he will tell you he spent those years just doing his job, Poffenberger has a wall of commendations and awards that prove otherwise.

There is a Governor's Citation, a certificate of honor from the U.S. Department of Justice, a plaque from the FBI and numerous honors from area organizations.

"I'm right proud of them," he said.

Poffenberger said he saved a couple of lives during his career and, on occasion, saved his own life.

"I've had knives pulled on me, had hippies try to dynamite my house and was shot at during the '60s riots in Baltimore," he said. "After 37 years, I have a lot of stories to tell."

Those three decades of service earned him a special honor at his retirement in 1997, he said.

"It is the most number of years served by any state trooper in the State of Maryland," Poffenberger said.

Poffenberger said a highlight of his career was when he was selected to help escort President Jimmy Carter when he visited Washington County in the 1970s.

"I escorted him to Antietam National Battlefield, Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) and back to Camp David," Poffenberger said. "That's something I'm very proud of."

"I've really enjoyed my life," he said. "I've done so much."

But when it came time to retire, Poffenberger said he wasn't ready to sit around and do nothing.

After stepping down from the Maryland State Police, he worked for three years at the Internal Revenue Service in Martinsburg, W.Va., as a security guard.

"Due to the high price of gasoline, I rode my Honda motorcycle to work," he said. "But one day, I was hit by a deer and broke three ribs. I decided it was time to quit."

When he was younger, Poffenberger thought he might like to be part of the Department of Natural Resources.

"So, I decided it was never too late," he said.

He signed up to be a volunteer and recently was honored for 1,500 hours of service.

Poffenberger said it's a year-round job and he makes himself available "whenever they need me."

"I'm proud to work with the DNR," he said. "They do a fine job that many people don't know about."

"It can also be dangerous work," he said. "You never know what you're encountering in any given situation. Just look at the Pennsylvania game warden who was killed recently. It's not an easy job."

At the age of 75, Poffenberger said people are sometimes surprised to see him sneaking up on hunters who are breaking the law, or pulling over fishermen who don't have licenses.

"I have a personal dislike for people who don't think the rules apply to them," he said. "That's why I volunteer with pleasure - to put a stop to that."

When he's not out with the DNR, Poffenberger said he still enjoys painting, pointing out several pieces of artwork hanging on his living room walls.

He also is a Civil War buff, loves to garden and enjoys watching the wildlife that visits his seven-acre property.

Poffenberger has received many accolades during his lifetime, but to him, the real hero in his family is his wife of 50-plus years, Dorothy.

"She kept it all going over the years," he said. "When I started out with the state police, I was making $2,200 a year. Somehow, she managed to make it work."

Together, he said, they enjoy spending time with their family, which includes four children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren "and one on the way."

When he went to the police academy all those years ago, Poffenberger said he drove a Cadillac and quickly garnered the nickname "Cadillac Jack."

At a recent reunion, he said friends still called him by that name, "which is sort of nice."

Now, Poffenberger said he has made new friends at the DNR.

"It's a perfect fit," he said of his volunteer work with the department. "I enjoy it so much. People say I'm as old as dirt. But I guess I'll be out there for as long as I can, even if I have to use one of those walkers while doing the job."

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