‘Part-timer’ still doing the job for sheriff’s department 47 years later

Jim Wall has been a reserve deputy for the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department for 47 years. He has served under eight sheriffs, from Marion Van Pelt to Terry Stoffel.
Jim Wall has been a reserve deputy for the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department for 47 years. He has served under eight sheriffs, from Marion Van Pelt to Terry Stoffel. Photo by Ehren Wynder.

Originally published Nov. 19, 2015.

Jim Wall, the most experienced member of the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department, has never actually been a full-time deputy.

Instead, he’s spent nearly five decades as a special deputy or reserve deputy.

And that 47 years in uniform is the most years of service any current member of the department — full-time or reserve — has under his belt.

Wall first signed on as a deputy in 1968, almost by accident.

“Marion Van Pelt was sheriff, and I just got back out of the service,” Wall remembers. “I’d seen him at one of the restaurants when I said something about being a deputy — at that time they only had two people, the sheriff and one deputy.”

A few days later, Wall ran into Van Pelt at the courthouse.

“As I come out of there he comes in there and says ‘come with me,’” Wall says. “He says ‘raise your right hand. I’m making you a special deputy’ — and then we went upstairs to the courtroom. They had a guy up there who was causing some problems.”

The man in the courtroom was too big for Van Pelt to restrain. But he figured that for the new Deputy Wall, who had a bigger build, the man would be more compliant. Wall says he initially refused, not wanting to get in a fight with the big man, but Van Pelt wouldn’t give him a choice.

“Now here I am, young, just out of the service. I’m not like I am right now,” Wall says.  “And the guy looked and said, ‘What are you gonna do?’ And I said, ‘He said I’m gonna take ya.’ That’s the starting of being a deputy.”

During his time as a deputy, Wall has worked with eight sheriffs, starting with Van Pelt and continuing to current Sheriff Terry Stoffel.

Wall was working for Yellow Freight System when he started out as a special deputy.

“When I came out of the service, I was guaranteed a job with Yellow,” Wall says.

That job, he says, was too good to give up.

“(Sheriff) Pete Rudicel offered me a full-time position three different times,” Wall says. “The basic wage for a new deputy was $5,100 a year. At that time I was working for Yellow Freight System, and I was making pretty close to $11,000 a year.”

Wall retired from Yellow Freight System at the age of 54, but he kept  working as a reserve deputy.

“It’s been fun,” Wall says. “I’ve been in on a lot of things. I’ve been on drug busts. I’ve been out nights when we had a murder. You do everything that a full-time officer does.”

Wall works 16 or more hours a month as a reserve officer, a number that goes up significantly when the Huntington County 4-H Fair rolls around. That week, he says, demands close to 40 hours.

“I enjoy doing that. I get to talk to a lot of people,” Wall says. “You have a lot of people come up and tell you things, and you pass it off onto the other officers.”

Wall says that for the tenure of a couple of sheriffs he was put in charge of the reserve officers.

“Pete Rudicel was one of them that started the reserves,” Wall says. “It went from special deputy to reserves. I believe we had 10 reserves to start out — I’ve had a lot of training. No, I haven’t went to the academy, but I’ve had probably more training than the guys that have been to the academy over 47 years.”

Wall has received training on domestic violence, abuse of the elderly, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), firearms, narcotics, warrants and serving papers.

Wall says that the requirements for training have changed since he first joined. Reserve officers now have to have 24 hours of training annually.

“You sit through training like I have in the last 20 years — and it’s the same old stuff,” Wall says. “But every little bit of training I’ve been to I always picked up something new.”

Wall also talks about a new training system that teaches officers how to deal with the sovereign citizens movement.

“We just had training here — there are certain groups of people out here that don’t believe in our government,” Wall says. “Have I met any of those fine people? Yes, I have.

“They’re gonna tell you that they don’t believe in our government. They don’t believe in our police force — they have their own court systems. They have their own driver’s license. It’s fun. You gotta stand there and keep your cool with them.”

Wall recounts an incident when he was on patrol with an officer who stood for about an hour with one sovereign citizen on a traffic stop.

“He ended up impounding the vehicle,” Wall says. “Then the guy that he impounded it from sued him, the sheriff’s department, the wrecker service — under their court, not our court, their court – for $25 million in silver bullion.”

Wall also talks about the first accident he was ever assigned to.

“That was probably the first month I was on with Pete Rudicel,” Wall says. It involved a family from Bluffton. “There was six fatalities in that. You did what you had to do, and after that you go around the corner and heave your guts up.

“LeMoine Drabenstot was the deputy out there and Rudicel came out. LeMoine comes over and he says, ‘You OK?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He says, ‘Don’t feel bad about it. We all do it.’”

Wall says he thought the hard part was over. But then the deputies had to give their report to the funeral home.

“Then the coroner comes in. He had to take blood draws — you had to be in the room while they did that. That was one of the worst accidents I had ever been on.”

Wall says that overall he’s been really happy with his work. He says he’s worked under some really good sheriffs.

“Why do I do it? I thought I’d give back to the community,” Wall says. “I’m slowing down. We got a bunch of young guys in the reserves now. We got a good reserve program.”