We don’t see each other very often anymore. He lives in rural Highland County surrounded by thick woods and wild game that knows to keep a respectful distance, cautious not to get too close to the expert marksman who believes strongly in the Second Amendment.
The serenity of Christmas brings us together at the Sheriff’s Office Annual Christmas Party and Award Ceremony, and we talk about old times and share stories; stories that only those of us who have experienced the challenges of law enforcement can tell to the young deputies who follow in our footsteps.
As Brenda and I parked our car at the Placing of the Wreath Ceremony in honor of National Police Week held at Sugar Grove Ceremony in Wilmington last week, the first people we saw were Ralph and his wife Ida. They were standing underneath a large, shady oak tree, shielded from the unseasonal heat and humidity.
It is always good to see former Clinton County Sheriff Ralph Fizer Sr.
The special ceremony, organized by former WPD officer Dave Lieurance and Chief of Police Duane Weyand, honors the two Wilmington Police Officers who were killed in the line of duty. The observance brings together the former law enforcement officers who served on the Wilmington Police Department and the family members of former officers.
The ceremony touches our hearts.
Ralph and I have known each other for more than 50 years. He and Ida came to Wilmington and bought the old Miller Bakery at the corner of Locust and South streets in the mid-1960s.
Ralph and Ida were friendly and accommodating to everyone who walked through the front door of the bakery. In fact, when our son Greg was a young boy, every Friday evening we would drop him off at Fizer’s Bakery so he could help Ralph and his boys bake rolls and bread.
Upon Greg’s arrival, Ralph would get an apron for Greg to wear. Greg would slide it over his head and begin helping form the rolls and greasing the pans.
Ralph and I have shared a lifelong love of law enforcement. Even when working at the bakery during the night, he always had a police scanner, often covered with white flower, turned on. The scanner was plenty loud so he could monitor the police activity, particularly with fights at the local taverns being commonplace.
Ralph was a special officer for the Wilmington PD at that time and would leave the bakery at night if an officer called for reinforcements.
In 1980, I was elected Clinton County sheriff. Ralph and I were talking before I took office, and he told me he had been thinking about closing the bakery and thought he might like to go into law enforcement. Shortly thereafter, Ralph took the oath of office and was sworn in as a Clinton County deputy sheriff, where he quickly worked his way up through the ranks.
Ralph became an exceptional detective, and played a key role in solving a homicide after a body was found on a farm near Martinsville.
The department received a call from an individual who reported they had discovered a shallow grave in a wooded area behind the barn. We opened the grave and as expected, found only skeletal remains.
Ralph was assigned this difficult case.
He had a drug informant who called him from a bar in Warren County and said, “I just heard someone say they had committed a crime and buried the body on a farm near Martinsville.”
Within just two weeks, he not only made the identification of the remains, he also solved the case. In the end we were able to give the man a decent burial at Sugar Grove.
This case was like looking for a needle in a haystack, and Ralph found the needle.
Ralph and I were as close as brothers. We even sang Merle Haggard songs together on Walker Road near a campfire one evening, but like many brothers, relationships can become strained, and at one time ours bent, but never broke.
Happily, time has healed, forgiveness has been granted, and hands have been shaken.
Law enforcement has been rewarding for Ralph and I. We served side-by-side and covered each other’s back for many years during times of danger, and look back upon those special times and special places with a great deal of satisfaction and pride.
We both worked very hard to make Clinton County a better place to live. That is all any man can do.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.