Much has been verbalized regarding this familiar fellow, some as of late. A plethora of news media articles, political advertisements, law enforcement, municipal blab sheets, and a small book, with him as the focal point for one reason or another, have been penned. I will impart my personal Bob Sargent two-cents worth.
This will be written from my vantage point and not that of anyone else’s. It's not meant to be another biography of our recently-departed City of Firsts standout.
As a long-haired, pimple-faced, 1973 high school grad, I had absolutely no calculation for my long-term future. Part-time work provided funding for a car payment and pizza. That was good enough. But thoughts soon zeroed in on a plan to sever apron strings from the home front.
Through curiosity and a bit of hero envy, ride-alongs with town marshals, deputy sheriffs, and state troopers sparked a career interest which I believed could be handled. 1974 was election year for several county offices, not the least of which was for Howard County Sheriff. With a breach of political etiquette, Sargent, as a Kokomo Police Captain, chose to oppose incumbent, long-time Sheriff Thomas E. Leap for the Democratic nomination.
The course was set with Leap possessing his savvy political appeal to the older Donkeys and Sargent heading up an aggressive team of campaign workers. Let's just say the nomination fight bordered on the ugly side.
Recalling the Sargent campaign, the word “because” was rammed home through media advertisement and yard signs. “Elect Bob Sargent for Sheriff” with a wide blue diagonal stripe. At the bottom was “...because.”
Sargent prevailed in the fracas and went on to victory in November's election, besting Republican opponent Charles Sosbe by 6,100 votes. I was a green, politically-ignorant kid not wishing to make enemies, so I sat on the sidelines and learned.
At just past midnight on Jan. 1, 1975, I was present at the old Howard County jail book-in area at 623 S. Berkley Road after the keys were handed over to the Sargent administration. I was introduced to the rookie Sheriff and his strong handshake for the first time.
Nearby was his second in command, just-retired KPD Chief Earle Howard, who was a prior acquaintance from him and my dad working together at Kokomo's General Electric plant during World War II. New jail workers and matrons also circulating through the book-in area were all strangers but soon would become my very close friends.
The light bulb began to glow in my head, “I have got to make a good impression on these people if I ever hope to work here.” I began in earnest to make a pest of myself and learn as much about the business as possible.
My ride-along sessions with the deputies picked up in intensity as time progressed. There were but a handful of days in 1974-75 where I wasn't begging a ride with someone or just hanging around the jail. With love of photography, I began honing my skills with accident and crime scene photography.
Sheriff Sargent's lovely wife Peggy was one of the jail matrons; therefore we had many opportunities for conversations on long evenings at the jail. It didn't hurt to have the boss’ wife like me.
Bob Sargent was well known and respected for his overriding belief and implementation of training for law enforcement officers, having established one of the first academies in the state of Indiana right here in Kokomo. Not yet being 21 years of age, under urging from Sargent and other officers, I began a self-induced training program of sorts of which one portion was to become SCUBA certified.
Not that Sarge required it, but officers suggested I register as a Democrat. I did, no doubt creating a stir inside the graves of my Republican forebears.
“Sarge,” as he was known, had an affinity for youngsters becoming involved with his love of police work. In the autumn of 1975, the first Howard County Law Enforcement Explorer Post, through the Boy Scouts of America, was sponsored by Sheriff Bob Sargent with Sergeant Jerry Marr as adviser.
I hooked my wagon to the program, together with about three dozen other teens from Howard County schools. Of the kids in the original group, several made careers in law enforcement via the Explorers, which I'm sure Sargent found gratifying. As a spin-off, I met a girlfriend, future wife, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law as part and parcel to this organization. Woohoo, go Bob!
The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) brought nine new merit deputies to the HCSD in March 1975. Again, not being old enough, I had to impatiently hold my horses. When I finally reached the proper age bracket, I didn't qualify due to being employed. Rats!
Sarge finally got me on the payroll in November 1978 as one of two process servers. Bob Kirchgessner and I divided Howard County into two sections. My section included the north half of Kokomo. Being a white kid from Greentown, I had experienced little interracial, interpersonal relationships. That changed real quick.
Ol' Sarge knew what he was doing. He had a history of trust built among the African-American community, and he wanted me to do the same. So he threw me in. It was one of the best cultural experiences I could have sought. When people realized who the nervous white kid was with papers in his hand, I was no threat. As a matter of fact, many invited me in for iced tea and meals on occasion.
Being anxious to attend the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, and with no merit deputy openings available, I applied, with Sheriff Sargent as one of my references, and was accepted into the North Manchester Police Department ranks. While undergoing the 10-week training session at the academy, a merit position opened up in Howard County. Boy was I in a dilemma. Loyalty to my current department or go back home to familiar territory and a $4,000 raise? No brainer.
Interview with the Howard County Merit Board in December finally delivered what I longed for, a position as merit officer. Did I become God's gift to law enforcement? Nope, never claimed to be. My goal was to have a cooperative relationship with folks like Sarge.
For 32 years I enjoyed a solid living, the opportunities given and proudly wore the badge and uniform through confidence shown by Robert F. Sargent in 1980. Why did I respect the man? Because.