Validation, recollection of sheriff's 40-year career

Kerr County Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer has served citizens in this county for 40 years and will retire at the end of his term in December.

There is a saying that goes “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

As I look to the end of my 40-year career in law enforcement, I’m not sure I would use the word “love,” but rather say “called to do.” Being a peace officer something I was meant to do.

Born the son of a DPS Trooper, I can honestly say I grew up every day of my life understanding the honor and sense of duty that comes with being a peace officer.

Today, with only four months left in my term as Kerr County Sheriff, I spend parts of my days looking back on my career … most often with pride and occasionally with doubts.

However my entire career was recently validated in one small gesture by a local citizen. This citizen is someone I encountered early in my career, arresting him more than once on non-violent infractions.

While he was incarcerated we encouraged him to learn a trade. He was released and we never heard from him again.

He called me recently, on July 2, and asked if he could visit with me. It had been decades since I spoke with him and I was not sure what he wanted, but I was happy to take the meeting.

He came to my office and presented me with a gold coin. As I looked at it, he explained that he was presenting me with his 30-Year Sobriety Coin. He wanted me to have it because, in his opinion, he felt I somehow had a positive influence on the choices he made in his life after spending time in jail.

He told me I treated him with respect, although he didn’t feel he deserved it at the time. He said that he learned to respect himself and that he wanted a better life, so he stopped drinking, was able to get his life together, and today is a successful businessman.

I needed to hear that. I wanted to hear that. Because, as law enforcement officers, we do take our jobs seriously. We don’t want to take away anyone’s freedom, but we do want to keep our citizens safe.

He understood that. Ultimately, that’s what we all want … for anyone breaking the law to understand that we are just doing our jobs and we truly want all citizens to find success and happiness.

I will always cherish that coin and what it meant to him. Even after all of these years, I wished my father was here so I could show him.

My dad, Buddy, was not only a guiding force in my life, but also my career.

Dad was a Department of Public Safety State Trooper from the time I was born. He began as a highway patrol officer and later was named as one of the first DPS narcotics officers in Texas, working undercover most of the time.

My brothers, sister and I couldn’t tell anyone what my dad did for living, and that caused us some grief.

I remember my mom dyeing his hair in the bathroom. Sometimes he would have a long beard and other times he would be bald.

We actually got kicked out of the school carpool because neighbors grew concerned when they kept seeing all of these long-haired men, many of them at our house at all hours of the night and day.

We moved to Kerr County in 1975. I was a junior in high school. My dad was working on the largest organized crime case in the state at that time. In my senior year, we were informed that his life was in danger and I remember sleeping on the couch in the living room with a shotgun in my lap.

Some might describe it as a difficult childhood, but we all understood and made it work.

You would think that having a man like my dad in your corner would make getting a job at the Kerr County Sheriff’s Office easy. Not for me.

After graduating from Tivy High School in 1977, I went to work at Furman’s True Value hardware and feed store and later went to work at Prison Canyon Ranch. The sheriff at the time, Paul Fields, asked if I would like to come to work for him as a deputy sheriff.

I told him I had to think about it first. My mom was totally against it and dad told me not to do it. He said law enforcement had changed too much.

But I wanted to do it. I wanted to follow in his footsteps, so I told Paul I would take the job.

Hiring deputies was much different back then. Paul had to go before Kerr County Commissioners’ Court for approval. It was an all-day affair. They didn’t want to hire me because they said I was “too small.” I was about 130 pounds dripping wet, and was 5 ft. 6 inches tall.

They were right, I wasn’t very big at all, but Paul saw something in me and he finally told them he was hiring me and that was that.

It’s funny how things work out. I am sure those commissioners thought they were doing the right thing, but here I am now … 40 years later.

Back then, you were hired before you ever went to the Police Academy. You had a year to become certified. We had eight employees and didn’t even have 24-hour service. We worked in the jail, in court or anywhere we were needed.

I am not sure I remember my first arrest, but one of the first serious calls I went to was out at Schaeffer’s beer joint in Ingram. There was a report of a stabbing. When I got there, a victim was on the floor and another man was standing on top of the pool table yelling. At one point, another man raised up and said “You’re a little SOB. I’m going to kill you.” That was my initiaton into law enforcement, but they went to jail and I walked away, so it all worked out.

I was blessed, or cursed on some calls, to work alongside my dad. I was proud to be working side-by-side with the man I admired so much, but boy did he take advantage of the seniority. If we were on a call together, I was going to be assigned to the worst task.

There are so many good memories I will take with me. Unfortunately, there are many not-so-pleasant ones that will remain with me as well, but I wouldn’t change a single moment of my time with the Kerr County Sheriff’s Office.

When I decided to retire, I remembered what my dad told me when I wanted to get into this business … “Things have changed too much.” I’ve been blessed to see this department grow. I’ve been blessed to have so many dedicated and capable people work for me and I am proud of the department we have created together.

But, it’s now time for another sheriff to lead and grow this department.

As is true of most career peace officers, my only regret is that I did not spend enough time with my children when they were little, because I thought I was going to “save the world.” This is the one thing I would change if I could, but they have grown up to be wonderful adults and parents and make me proud every day.

I would like to thank my lovely and patient wife, Jean, for the support I needed to get the job done. I look forward to dedicating the time to her that she deserves.

I would say to all the officers: Be true to yourself. Be true to your profession. Hold tight to the Code of Ethics. These hard times will pass, but you should work every day to make your community proud.

It’s been my privelege and honor to serve the citizens of Kerr County, and I look forward to all the great things this department will do in the future.

(1) comment

Brenda Craig

One of the best persons I know. And by far the best law enforcement officer Kerr County has ever had. Best wishes for a great retirement! Brenda Craig.

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