After 38 years, Mike Shepherd takes off his badge

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GREENFIELD — Mike Shepherd joked during a debate once that he wanted to be a police officer because he really liked that 1950s television show “Gunsmoke.”

He does like “Gunsmoke,” he said, recalling the moment during one of his campaigns for sheriff with a laugh; but if he’s being honest, he can’t put his finger on what finally led him to a career in law enforcement.

However it started, that career — which spanned four decades, all in service to Hancock County and its citizens — came to an end at the start of this month as Shepherd began his retirement.

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After two successful terms as Hancock County sheriff, he handed the reins of the department over to new Sheriff Brad Burkhart on Jan. 1. Now, he looks forward to traveling and spending more time with his family.

Those who know him best say Shepherd’s legacy in Hancock County will be his kind, humble and helpful demeanor.

He hopes he’s remembered that way, too. His 38-year career spans the county, where he’s served in leadership capacities both on and off the road; and in that time, he was forced to make a lot of important decisions. He hopes the community knows that each choice was made with integrity.

Shepherd has always considered Fortville home. He spent the first 13 years of his life in Anderson before his family moved closer to the Hancock-Hamilton county line. He graduated from Hamilton Southeastern High School in 1976 and began to explore his interest in law enforcement soon after.

He started his career with the Fortville Police Department in 1980 as a reserve officer. He graduated from the law enforcement academy in September 1981, taking on his first full-time patrol position at the age of 23.

Shepherd thinks taking a job in his hometown made his first few years on the job a bit easier. He already knew his way around, he said. He knew the roads and the layout to this place that was his back yard. So, he got to focus on being a police officer.

He patrolled the streets of Fortville for several years before joining the sheriff’s department. He worked as a deputy for 18 years before heading back to Fortville in 2000 to serve as the department’s chief of police.

In 2002, Shepherd completed a 10-week advanced training program for upper law enforcement management at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. He’s one of only a handful of Hancock County law enforcement officers to have completed the program.

Also in 2002, he received an Ivy Tech Community College scholarship and graduated in 2004 with an associate’s degree in computer information systems.

Shepherd left Fortville in 2007 to take a post as the security manager for Hancock Regional Hospital.

Shepherd first ran for sheriff in the spring of 2006, where he finished third in a six-way race for the Republican nomination. Bud Gray eventually won election that year, but Shepherd returned for a rematch four years later.

Shepherd ousted Gray in the 2010 primary, earning the Republican nomination and then the sheriff’s office. He won a second term in 2014.

Soft-spoke and mild-mannered, Shepherd always stayed involved with community-centered program throughout his time in office.

In recent years, he was part of forging the creation of Hancock County Community Night, a large gathering at the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds that aims to connect residents with members of law enforcement. And every holiday season, he participated in the annual Shop with a Deputy program, which partners kids in need with an officer for a shopping spree at the Walmart.

He helped facilitate the revitalization of the Character Council of Hancock County, which helps to create a culture in the county that recognizes people for the good things they do.

The group nearly disbanded in 2012 because of lack of funds and interest. C.O. Montgomery, now a leader of the group, said Shepherd stepped up, lending the character council a meeting room in the basement of the Hancock County Jail to hold their monthly breakfasts. It helped breathe new life into the group.

The story is a true reflections of Shepherd’s character: He’s always willing to lend a hand to whoever needs it, said his longtime pastor, Phil Edwards.

Edwards leads the congregation at the Fortville Nazarene Church. And Shepherd is there, every Sunday, with his family, and he takes on the task for setting out coffee and donuts for his fellow worshipers.

“With Mike, what you see is what you get,” Montgomery said.

He and his wife, Gretchen, still live in Fortville, where they raised four children.

Much like their father, each of Mike Shepherd’s kids has chosen a path rooted in community service.

Shepherd’s oldest son, Stephen, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a sheriff’s deputy in Allen County. Their older daughter, Stacie, is employed as a social worker. His youngest son and daughter, Brian Shepherd and Christie Shepherd, enlisted in the United States Air Force within days of each other in 2017.