BALTIMORE — With family and friends in the audience, Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart accepted the 2015 Ferris E. Lucas Sheriff of the Year award from the National Sheriffs’ Association Sunday night in Baltimore, Maryland.
“This has been a phenomenal experience,” said Lenhart Monday afternoon. “There were 60-plus people from Shelby County and Sidney who came to the ceremony. Some of them were a surprise to me. My wife (Sharon) knew, but I was caught of guard.”
The couple’s children — son Shawn and his wife, daughter Amy and her husband and daughter Rebecca, along with five grandchildren — traveled to Baltimore to watch their dad and grandfather be honored for his dedication to law enforcement in Shelby County.
“I don’t usually get nervous,” said Lenhart. “But I got a little flustered. I don’t like speeches and usually just write out bullet points of what I want to say.”
This time, said Lenhart, he wrote out what he wanted to say after he received his award.
“I forgot my youngest daughter,” said Lenhart. “She told me if I trade cars and get her a newer car, it’ll be OK.”
Also in attendance were Shelby County Commissioners Julie Ehemann and Tony Bornhorst and Chief Deputy Jim Frye, who had nominated Lenhart for the award.
“Former Dale DeLoye and his wife came,” said Lenhart of his surprise visitors. “I had family from Texas who came. Rev. Sylvia Hall and her husband came from Florida. She’s a retired Methodist minister.”
Lenhart’s 90-plus year old cousin, Delores Taylor was also in attendance.
“She had worked at the White House until her retirement two years ago,” said Lenhart. “She was one of the dozens of people who wrote letters when requests came to the White House.”
Lenhart said the entire experience has been humbling.
“I don’t like this much attention being paid to me,” said Lenhart. “When I listened to those things that were being said, I was at a loss for words. I’m used to being to the side of things, not being out front. The whole thing shook me up a couple of times.
“The award is more about where I’m from and who I work with,” said Lenhart. “I was at the right place at the right time.”
Lenhart said his experience as sheriff, then working for the state, then back to being sheriff and his commitment to the school safety program in Shelby County has allowed the county to “surface to the top” of law enforcement.
“This is teamwork that has a lot of people working toward a common goal,” said Lenhart.
Lenhart accepted the award by thanking his coworkers.
“I accept this award on behalf of the men and women I have served with my entire career,” said Lenhart. “They’ve done the heavy lifting day in and day out.”
This is the first time a sheriff from Ohio has received the award. Shelby County is also the smallest county to ever have a sheriff receive the award. In 2014, the Sheriff of the Year was from Las Vegas; in 2013 the winner was from Los Angeles.
“When I think of where I came from — a farm boy in Jackson Center and Jackson Township in Shelby County — this has been a phenomenal journey,” said Lenhart. “I’m amazed at how the good Lord has blessed me. He’s corrected my path and told me where I should go instead of where I thought I should go. I’m amazed at the blessings and good luck I’ve had.”
The evening began, said Lenhart, with a roll call of deputies and reserve deputies who lost their lives in the line of duty last year.
“There were 30-plus last year,” said Lenhart. “That was substantially up from the previous year.”
Ehemann and Bornhorst said they were glad to be part of the experience in Baltimore.
“I’m really proud of him,” said Ehemann. “He’s trying to be humble, but this was a really big deal.”
Ehemann said when Lenhart’s name was announced, his supporters in the audience “voiced our appreciation for him.”
Bornhorst said the experience was a unique one. He had never been to an awards ceremony where an orchestra was playing.
“The talk John gave was very inspiring for his fellow sheriffs,” said Bornhorst. “Law enforcement has been under attack and he told them in an excellent way by saying ‘they are doing the right thing and if we don’t do it, who will?’ The ambiance in the room was a great thing for John and his family. I was honored to be there to support him.”
The guest speakers for the banquet were Kelly Siegler, former Harris County, Texas, prosecutor, who has tried 21 death penalty cases and John Walsh, father of Adam Walsh, who kidnapped and was murdered when he was 6 years old in 1981.
Siegler is now part of the television show “Cold Justice,” which is an investigative documentary on TNT. She recently did a segment on a homicide from Darke County, Ohio.
Walsh became an advocate for victims’ rights and was the host of “America’s Most Wanted” television show.
“John Walsh was a very good speaker,” said Lenhart. “He talked about ‘The Hunt,” which is a new show he is doing.”
Walsh received the 2015 NSA Law Enforcement Lifetime Achievement Award, which is the first year for such an award. He is known for his work on missing and exploited children after his son Adam was abducted on July 27, 1981, from a mall in Hollywood, Florida. He is also known for America’s Most Wanted, NCMEC, which is the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. NCMEC was established in 1984, after President Ronald Reagan signed the “Missing Children’s Assistance Act.”
In addition to naming the Sheriff of the Year, the National Sheriffs’ Association also presented awards to the Deputy Sheriff of the Year and Crime Services Award.
“One of the deputies of the year had been shot and killed,” said Lenhart.
The visit to Baltimore was Lenhart’s first to the city.
“It’s a beautiful city,” he said.
More than 3,000 people were in attendance for the award ceremony. Lenhart said there were some safety concerns after incidents in the city earlier this year.
“There’s been no issues,” said Lenhart. “There was lots of security in place.”
“We got to see John Walsh and that was pretty awesome,” said Ehemann.
After listening to Walsh and Siegler, the award presentations began.
“It (anticipation) was all building up because the awards were near the end of the program,” said Ehemann.
The awards ceremony was part of the annual conference, which is being held from June 26 to July 1. As part of the conference, some of the presidential candidates were present for a discussion.
Lenhart said the National Sheriffs’ Association paid for his transportation, room and board and tuition for the conference for being named Sheriff of the Year.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.