Outta Left Field: Local columnist pays tribute to former police chief


    It was a different time, a different era; the latter part of the 1950s and the early 1960s. Believe it or not, there were days when the county jail housed only a handful of prisoners. The police “station” was located on the top floor of the longtime City Hall building which now houses Barger Realty. Not too many years earlier, a “cop” had walked the downtown streets at night, checking the doors of businesses to make sure they were locked.
    Guys like Vic Strickler, Larry Jennings, Grover Odle and others were back from the Korean War and joined the Decatur Police Department. Salaries weren't much, but the attraction for some – in addition to serving their community – was a policy which allowed the officer to retire with full pension benefits after just 20 years.
    Odle, who died Sunday at the age of 85, rose to become police chief, taking over from Jim Borders in 1966 and holding the post until 1977. In all, he spent 20 years on the department, serving with an iron glove on one hand and a velvet glove on the other. As a patrolman, “Grubby,” as he was known, would stop some kids who had had a couple of beers and were out cruising, chew their butts and tell them to get those butts home, making sure they went there. No arrest, not even a lecture; just some choice (and profane!) words letting the young dudes know they better get off the streets.
    They followed orders. They respected him.
    Yes, a much, much different era. Police officers can't do that today, wouldn't and shouldn't. Understand, officers of that time were not letting the city run wild, with no boundaries, no limits. They kept a lid on everything, for sure; but the lid in those days wasn't required to be so harsh, so uncompromising, as it is today.
    After getting his 20 years in, Grover went to work at Dolco and continued to serve his city as a member of city council.
    Ironically, the Decatur Police Department recently carried on its Facebook page a photo of the Decatur PD members in the early 1960s: Chief Jim Borders and nine officers. Grover Odle was the last of them to depart this Earth, and he left it amid the thoughts and admiration of the many who knew him.
    RIP, Chief, and thanks for everything.
    Decatur has had 10 police chiefs, beginning with Sephus Melchi, appointed to the newly-created post in 1936 when Decatur was elevated from a town to city status.
    He was followed by Ed Miller (1943-1954), Borders (1954-1966), Odle (1966-1977), Dick Mansfield (1977-1988), Paul Rich (1988-1993), Dick Noack (1993-1999), Kenny Ketzler (1999-2014), Greg Cook (2014-2017), and the current chief, Leonard Corral Jr., appointed in 2017.
    In a combined venture, Bluffton is seeking funds to construct an outdoor plaza downtown while Ossian is hoping to produce a pavilion/amphitheater.
    The neighboring Wells County communities are seeking $423,183 from the Northeast Regional Development Authority (RDA) to wrap up funding for the $2.1 million project known as Grow Wells County. The RDA was formed to distribute the $42 million in Regional Cities Initiative funds to 11 counties in this area.
    Bluffton officials have no doubt seen and been encouraged by the stunning success of Decatur's Madison St. Plaza. “We wanted to have something that really fit the mold of other communities in Indiana,” Michael Lautzenheiser, president of Bluffton NOW!, told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
    Bluffton's plans call for an outdoor plaza beside the Wells County Courthouse on a lot which is currently occupied by a building damaged in a 2011 fire; a retailer on the first floor would be relocated. A mural, green space, seating, and electrical hookups are included in the plans.
    The pavilion/amphitheater would be located in Ossian's 60-acre Archbold Wilson Park behind the Ossian Elementary School. Among its plans are a playground, an 18-hole disc golf course, hillside seating for the amphitheater and five acres of wildflowers. A concession stand and restrooms would be in the pavilion.
    The RDA may vote this month on the funding request. If approved, construction on the combined project could begin in the fall and be completed in 2020.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: In Friday's print edition of the Democrat, Bob Shraluka's name was inadvertantly omitted from his popular weekly column, "Outta Left Field." The error was in editing and the Democrat apoloagizes for any confusion this may have caused.