COLUMBUS — The Ohio Veterans of Foreign Wars has honored a Jackson Center resident with one of its highest awards.
Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart was named the Ohio VFW Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. He received his plaque, certificate and $300 for a charity of his choice Saturday in Columbus during the VFW’s annual meeting. Lenhart is donating his gift to the Jackson Center Education Foundation.
“I was surprised when I got the letter,” said Lenhart. “This award was a little bit different for me. Usually we receive awards from within our own (law enforcement) organizations. This one comes from outside that.
“When I accepted the award, I say I was accepting it for the men and women who worked with me in law enforcement. You can be the best there is but if your employeesdone’t work with you … the citizens of your county don’t work with you … you won’t succeed,” said Lenhart. “The men and women I work with here now and those past employees are the finest I’ve ever worked with.”
Lenhart was nominated for the award by the Alvin Metzger VFW Post 8445, Wapakoneta, and was the District 2’s selection to be entered in the statewide competition.
“We are extremely proud of John Lenhart,” said Delmar Merricle, Post 8445 commander. “What he’s done in his 40 years of service is outstanding. I also worked with him a Plastipak. He’s an outstanding man.”
Merricle said the post is very proud of Lenhart, whom he called an “outstanding man, outstanding sheriff and outstanding friend.”
VFW Commissioner Clayton Uzell is in charge of the selection of the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. A retired police officer, Uzell and three other judges read all the nominations for the award. Each judge awarded points for different categories in the competition. The person who received the most votes was named the winner.
“John was so far ahead of everybody else,” said Uzell. “He has accomplished so much in his 40 years of law enforcement. He’s had an exceptional career. The other candidates were good but John was head and shoulders above the others.”
Nine out of the 12 districts in Ohio submitted a nominee for the award said Uzell.
Uzell cited some of Lenhart’s accomplishment’s: youngest deputy to be elected sheriff in the state of Ohio; worked as a road deputy so he knows what it’s like to walk on the thin blue line; worked for BCI and upgraded their automated fingerprint system and DNA testing; and worked with two presidents — Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — on a committee for crimes and the Brady Bill.
“After meeting him I could see what a good person he is,” said Uzell. “He’s just not a good law enforcement official but a good person.”
“This award is unique,” Lenhart said. “It was presented by real heroes, real warriors. They are veterans of foreign wars and have received Purple Hearts. They’ve served their country in wars. To be honored by them is really special.”
During the ceremony, said Lenhart, the VFW presented scholarships to 12 students — one from each district in Ohio — for essays they had written. Some of the essays dealt with the Right to Vote and others were about what it’s like to be an American.
“They had unique stories,” said Lenhart. They talked about their parents or grandparents who came to the United States from other countries. They lived the essay through their (parents/grandparents) eyes.”
Uzell said the Voice of Democracy winners were impressed with Lenhart’s award. Many of them talked to the sheriff after he received his award.
“The students really related to him,” said Uzell. “One girl asked him for a job and John told her when she was 18 to come and talk to him.”
Lenhart said his two grandsons, who are interested in law enforcement, accompanied him to the event.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.