Representatives of police departments from throughout Bryan County paid tribute to former longtime Sheriff Bill Sturch during a memorial service held July 21 at Calvary Baptist Church in Durant.
Sturch, 83, died April 11 in McKinney, Texas.
Despite lacking much police training, Sturch was elected Bryan County Sheriff in 1992 and became one of the most-beloved and respected lawmen around during an astounding 20-year tenure in that position.
Bryan County Emergency Director James Dalton remembers the distinguished Sturch from those early days as a father figure to many young deputies.
"He just loved Bryan County," Dalton commented. "He was in his late 50s when he was elected and really was a more like a father to all those young deputies at the time. He truly cared about them like they were his own kids.
"He went through one of his hardest times in December of 1998, when one of those young deputies had a fatal accident in the fog. That was really, really hard on Bill but he did everything to help that family."
Dalton also pointed to Sturch’s tremendous sense of humor and love of kids, recalling one way he connected with youngsters.
"He could talk just like Donald Duck, and the kids loved it," Dalton said. "He was just a really fun guy and the administrator of the sheriff department. I think they called him the ‘Little General’ because he was vertically challenged, like me. You knew when he was coming because he had a Firebird Trans Am as his patrol car.
"Bill cared so much about the job and was great to be around."
Current Bryan County Sheriff Johnny Christian was a relative youngster in the business when Sturch became sheriff, and said he looked up greatly to his early predecessor.
Christian also spent time talking to Sturch during his run for the sheriff position four years ago, and got together with him several times over the past several years.
"I was a Highway Patrolman and got assigned to the Durant area about the time he came into office," Christian said. "I worked a lot with him and consider him a mentor. He wasn’t just a law enforcement friend, but a family friend. He showed up during my first campaign for sheriff, which was heartwarming. Bill was such a wonderful person and will truly be missed."
Christian remembers many of the things that Sturch passed along to him, including a piece of advice that he really took to heart.
"When Bill and I would talk the last few years, he would tell me the people that worked for him were most important," Christian said. "They were why he said he kept running (for office) all those years. I know what he was talking about after seeing how important the employees I have are. That’s one of the biggest things that he taught me.
"For him to continue being elected sheriff for 20 years is just unheard of. It just shows how much the people of Bryan County cared for him. He was one in a million."