After 25 years as a member of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, Larry Gardner retired on Thursday.
“It’s been an honor to serve the citizens of Monroe County for the last 20-plus years,” the longtime deputy said over the police radio after he finished his final shift.
Prior to starting with the department in February 1993, Gardner worked in maintenance for a Catholic church and school in his hometown of Cahokia.
From 1980-1986, he also served in a part-time volunteer role as a deputy marshal. His police officer, who was a Cahokia police officer, encouraged Gardner to become a deputy marshal.
When he and his family moved to Waterloo, Gardner said he wanted to take his career to the next step.
“When we moved to Monroe County I wanted to further that,” he remembered. “So I started working part-time and then I had the opportunity to work full-time, so that’s what I did.”
After being hired as a part-time deputy, his first major undertaking was to assist with efforts around the Flood of 1993.
“It was overwhelming at times, seeing all the devastation of the flood,” Gardner said. “But it was good knowing I was out there helping, knowing I was doing something good for the community.”
Gardner began working as a full-time deputy in 1998.
He said some of the most memorable events of his career were the flood and the trial of Christopher Coleman in 2011.
“That was big,” Gardner said of the triple-murder trial. “That put Monroe County on the map, but not in a good way.”
While those events may have been the most memorable of Gardner’s tenure, he said often the little ways he was able to help citizens was his favorite part of the job.
“You run across a lot of people who need some sort of assistance in some way, shape or form,” Gardner said. “It’s nice to know that you can help somebody and possibly make an impact on their lives.”
For all those times Gardner helped a stranded motorist or performed basic first aid at the scene of an accident, however, there were also incidents that Gardner said will stick with him for a bad reason.
“It’s been a rough road at times,” he said in his message after his last 10-42, the code police officers use to end their a tour of duty after a shift. “There are many calls I hope I can eventually forget. Hopefully some of these bad memories will fade with time.”
But Gardner said the happy memories outweigh the unpleasant ones, with the satisfaction of helping citizens and the regular interaction with his fellow MCSD employees providing some of the best memories.
He said the latter reason, especially, made signing off for the last time more difficult than he anticipated.
“My emotions ran the gamut,” Gardner said of his final 10-42 sign-off. “We’re family up there. I spend more time with some of those people than I do my own family. It’s tough knowing that I’m walking away. It’s tough knowing that I’m not going to be going in there every day or every couple days and interacting with those people like I have been for the last 20 years.”
Although it is bittersweet, Gardner said there were multiple reasons he wanted to retire now.
“Obviously, I’m not getting any younger,” he said. “My body’s slowing down. And I wanted to retire and enjoy retirement with my family.”
Gardner’s said his retirement plans include spending time with his 8-year-old and 3-month-old grandchildren.
He will also continue serving BackStoppers of Monroe County, an organization for which he serves as treasurer.
In addition, Gardner will remain a part-time employee with the MCSD on a very limited basis.
Looking back, Gardner said he enjoyed his career at the department, which he called “one of the best departments around.”
“It’s been a pleasure serving the citizens of Monroe County for the last 25 years,” Gardner said. “Law enforcement isn’t looked on like it used to be maybe pre-Ferguson, but it’s still a rewarding career. I’m glad I got to be a part of it.”