When I was growing up in Penacook, New Hampshire, we’d walk every day to school. We didn’t have a bus to pick us up for the three quarters of a mile walk or our mothers to take us each day in the back of a big SUV or fancy automobile. Most families didn’t have the luxury of having two cars, in fact most were lucky to have one good vehicle to get our dad’s to work.
Besides, my mom didn’t drive, at least not until my dad fell ill with cancer in 1966. Only then did she get her license so she could make the trip every day to see my father in the hospital.
When he was transferred to Mary Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire, she would make that hazardous drive every day over the old country roads during the worst winter could throw at her. That journey would take her 45 miles each way. She did it for the great love she had for the man she married and for whom she would bear three children and see to it we were never cold or hungry.
I write this week’s column, not about cars or the challenges we would face as a family, instead I write today about what made us feel safe during the early years of my life. I think it’s important to share this with you all because I think many of you have similar stories.
Our walks to school every day had one common bond that we all came to feel good about. It was about a big man who stood as large as one of the tallest trees in the forest, with the whitest of hair under the many different hats he might wear with his long woolen overcoat and his wide and welcoming smile. It was a smile that could warm the coldest of days of winter and made you feel so good when you saw him.
He was an officer of the Concord Police Department, wore a badge and walked the beat in our small Ward of the City of Concord, which was known as Penacook. He was the personification of kindness and dedication to the community he protected. Officer Joe Keenan was the epitome of what service in law enforcement meant.
Joe was a gentle giant and had the ability to recall your name as you’d come within earshot, something which made you feel very special as you’d approach the crosswalk in the middle of the village. He would always be there to insure you made it across the street safely and would remind you to not “dilly dally” on the way home.
I think about Joe often today as we hear of the horrific assault on those in the law enforcement community throughout our great nation. We are not immune to those senseless acts of violence here in Florida either.
Gilchrist County, Florida lost two of its own last week when an individual walked into a small restaurant where two deputies were sharing their lunch together. This coward walked up and murdered them in cold blood as they sat exchanging pleasantries and discussing the day’s activities.
Sergeant Noel Ramirez, 29 years old and a seven-year veteran of the department and Deputy Taylor Lindsey, 25 years of age and a three-year member of the agency were shot down in cold blood.
Sheriff Bobby Schultz of Gilchrist County described them as, “The best of the best. They’re men of integrity. They’re men of loyalty. They are God fearing. They loved what they did and we’re very proud of them.”
I tell you this because it is important that you know that these officers are not just a “statistic,” they are human beings who went out every day and placed their lives on the line for strangers and for those they knew. They did so because of the pride they have in their job and their responsibility to the citizens they protect.
This wasn’t a large city where these two innocent officers were murdered. Trenton, Florida is a community of 2,100 residents. It wasn’t a big metro-community, but was small town America where one individual chose to take the lives of two men that followed in the footprints of my friend, Officer Joe Keenan.
To date, 45 officers have lost their lives this year as I write to you about this. Many of them to senseless gun violence purposely perpetrated against them.
The profession is one of the most dangerous today, but we can thank the young men and women who step up to take the oath to serve and protect their communities, counties, states and federal agencies every day. Today there are approximately 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers serving their communities, counties, states and in federal agencies. Twelve percent of them are women.
As you read this, take the time to think about the two children of Sergeant Ramirez, who will now grow up without a father. Also think about the potential for good that both Ramirez and Lindsey held within themselves for the future, which is now lost to us all.
Think about Officer Joe Keenan walking the kids across the busy street and the wonderful love we had for him. Now reflect upon where we have drifted to as a society, which seems to have lost the respect for those that protect our children and do so much in communities throughout our nation.
Thank you to all that have worn, wear and will wear the badge and for the dedication and sacrifices that they and their families make every day. Let’s work together to put this nation back on the right track, while never forgetting to remember these are young men and women who are not just a badge, but a person who deserves our respect and admiration.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com