IT was the next to the last sentence in Ed Reuter’s letter that gave me the “hook” for a column about Jon Oldham.
Ed, who before he became director of the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center had spent 33 years as an Indiana state trooper, wrote about his relationship with another former trooper — Jon Oldham.
Jon, a 30-year ISP veteran who went on to become Decatur County sheriff and an investigator with the Decatur County prosecutor’s office, died Saturday at Hospice of South Central Indiana.
The service of the two men had overlapped for a number of years, but according to Ed, it was Jon who was always the mentor and Ed who was the student.
“As a young trooper working with Jon on many occasions, I always hoped that someday I, too, could make a difference and leave a legacy as he has,” Ed wrote.
It was farther down in the note, that next to the last sentence, where he provided the reason for this column by explaining the kind of legacy Jon left and the example he set not only for Ed but for all law enforcement officers.
“He treated everyone with respect, including individuals who lived on the wrong side of the law.”
For most civilians, that’s not a quality that would be deemed essential for the performance of the duties of a police officer.
“That was one thing that Jon really believed in — treating everybody with respect, especially those you might be arresting,” Ed said earlier this week. “It produces results. I know that there were a number of times when people who had been arrested by Jon would come up and thank him for the way they were treated. Some said his arresting them had changed their lives. There were even individuals who provided information to help in other cases.”
That doesn’t mean that the veteran trooper was a soft touch or would go easy on anybody.
“He could put the hammer down when he needed to,” Ed recalled. “He was also tireless when he worked on a case as an investigator. He’d work 24 to 30 hours straight chasing down information, and he wasn’t intimidated by anybody.”
One case that drew his dogged pursuit was the Chemscam scandal in the early 1980s that resulted in the indictment and conviction of several officials in southern Indiana cities (including Seymour) for accepting improper payments from business agents.
He also brought with him to the job a sense of humor.
“There was one murder case in which a suspect had been arrested,” Ed recalled. “We had arranged a lineup for witnesses to identify the suspect, but we didn’t have enough people to stand in the lineup. Jon turned to me and said, “Reuter, get out of your uniform and put on some jail clothes. You’re in the lineup. The thing was that I was about the same size and build as the suspect, and when the lineup was over, Jon came up and told me, ‘Reuter, we almost had to arrest you.’”
There was also a personal relationship that withstood the test of time.
“Jon had retired in 1995 and gone on to become sheriff of Decatur County,” Ed recalled. “He had been off the force for six or seven years by the time my father died, but he made a point to come and see me. That meant a lot.”
There were a lot of things that Jon Oldham did that meant a lot ... to a lot of people.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at email@example.com.