GREENFIELD — Considering the circumstances, the atmosphere outside the Hancock County FOP Monday afternoon was surprisingly cheerful.
Several dozen people gathered under a large shade tree to break ground for the Hancock County Fallen Officers Memorial. Most in attendance were there to remember a lost husband, father, friend or colleague.
Survivors celebrated the lives of all three fallen Hancock County officers: Malcolm Grass, Dannie Garrison and Will Phillips.
The group also welcomed 30 cyclists participating in the 2012 Cops Cycling for Survivors ride.
The annual ride, which kicked off Monday morning in Indianapolis, helps keep awareness of the fallen officers in the public eye and raises money for their survivors. More than 50 cyclists ride anywhere from one to 13 days and cover more than 1,000 miles as they make their way around the perimeter of the state, visiting families of fallen officers along the way. The ride wraps up in Indianapolis July 21.
The stop in Greenfield was their first of the ride.
“We keep coming back to let survivors know we haven’t forgotten,” said the ride’s organizer, Rich Crawford. “Nor will we ever forget.”
Crawford, a trooper with the Indiana State Police, said that while the ride raises between $30,000 and $40,000 each year, raising awareness and remembering fallen officers is the group’s priority.
Crawford rides for his friend Gary Dudley, who was one of two officers killed in an accident during the 2006 ride. Dudley had been the primary organizer of the cycling event before the accident.
“I picked up where he left off,” Crawford said.
Many of the cyclists ride for someone in particular, but others just ride to support the cause – a cause that becomes very real when the riders stand in front of survivors at events like Monday’s ceremony.
Family members for each of Hancock County’s three officers were present to participate in the groundbreaking for the memorial that will soon bear their loved ones’ names.
“It’ll be nice to have something local for the boys,” said Lesley Phillips, wife of fallen Greenfield Police officer Will Phillips. “They love to see their dad’s name on the wall in D.C.”
Phillips was killed in 2010 after being struck by a hit-and-run driver while participating in a training bike ride. That left Lesley to raise their two young sons – Gavin, now 7, and Bryson, now 4.
The memorial, which Lesley said her family will visit often, will be located in front of the FOP and feature a stone monument and eternal flame set in a 15-foot circle of concrete.
It was designed by Gage Williamson, a Greenfield-Central sophomore. The memorial is his Eagle Scout project, a community service project required of Boy Scout members working toward the rank of Eagle Scout.
Williamson has raised enough money to get the project started, but continues to raise additional funds to pay for gas for the eternal flame and landscaping.
“I focus a lot on putting impact into people’s lives,” Williamson said.
Williamson got the idea for the project after seeing something similar in another county. It has a lot of personal meaning for the 15-year-old, who himself wants to become a police officer.
He said the project has received widespread support, so the funding came together quickly through a combination of grants, business donations and individual contributions. The memorial should be completed by the end of the year.
The memorial will honor the county’s three fallen officers, as well as leave room for others. Williamson said it was important for all officers to be remembered.
“Everyone knows about Will Phillips, but nobody really talks about the others,” he said.
That’s likely because they happened so long ago, said Amy Garrison, wife of Dannie.
“People that live here now may not have lived here then,” she explained.
Dannie Garrison, a Hancock County sheriff’s deputy, was 51 when he suffered a heart attack while on duty and crashed his cruiser. More than 10 years after losing her husband, Amy said it means a lot to know that people are still thinking about him.
“It makes me feel proud of the work he did,” she said. “I hope people remember all of the officers who have served.”