Police & Courts

VonderHaar says farewell to Adams County Sheriff's Department

Outgoing Adams County Sheriff Brian VonderHaar speaks to a Herald-Whig reporter in his office about his career in law enforcement at the sheriff's office on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. VonderHaar is retiring after 30 years with the department. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 24, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY — Adams County Sheriff Brian VonderHaar admits that he feels a little nervous as he closes out his career.

"It seems like this is all I've known since I've been 22 years of age, so leaving this is like leaving my family," VonderHaar said.

VonderHaar's last day as sheriff is Thursday, after a 30-year career with the department.

He announced earlier this month that he would resign with just over two years remaining on his term, after serving as sheriff since February 2016.

Chief Deputy Rich Wagner will be sworn in as sheriff Friday after the Adams County Board confirmed his appointment last week.

VonderHaar, 52, joined the department in April 1990 and worked his way through the ranks, but that wasn't his initial goal.

"When I first started, I was so happy being deputy that I would have been satisfied to just have been a deputy my whole entire career," he said. "I love the job. I love the Adams County sheriff's office, and over the years, the promotions just started coming and I took them in stride and I loved every one, but I would have been satisfied just to be a deputy."

Being able to help the community was where found the most joy on the job.

"I've met so many good people over the years, and it was so gratifying to help people through situations," VonderHaar said. "From the smallest of things — maybe an elderly couple that had their mailbox damaged and we were able to figure out who did it — or the serious stuff where we were able to help victims and console family members."

His tenure as sheriff saw one of the biggest changes to the department in decades with the opening of the $32 million Adams County Detention and Law Enforcement Center — a project he described as enjoyable "sprinkled in with some stress."

"We needed to add protection for our employees, but we also needed to add some protection for the inmates that are housed here," VonderHaar said. "The inmates here most of them are our community members, and somebody's son or daughter, somebody's brother, sister, mother, father. The obligation that we owe to keep them protected as well as our employees was a huge factor in getting this thing built."

He noted one major change noticed in the new facility has been a reduction of fights between inmates, which was a regular occurrence in the old jail where inmates were in tighter quarters, and they couldn't be classified into many areas.

"Within the first two to three weeks of moving over to the new facility, we noticed that we hadn't one little skirmish in the jail," VonderHaar said. "It was already helping a great deal."

He added that disturbances remain significantly down.

The new facility also has played a role in keeping COVID-19 cases down. Only one inmate has tested positive for the virus, and about 10 employees received positive tests or were suspected to have COVID-19

The pandemic brought along a new realm of unknown in law enforcement, with the goal to keep the community and deputies and staff safe, while navigating executive orders and other challenges.

"We had some people mad, because they wanted us to be more forceful on mask wear," VonderHaar said. "We had other people that took the opposite point of view, and we just consistently tried to stay course to educate people and do the best we can to help protect our community, but it definitely has been a trying time."

Leaving in the middle of his term wasn't something VonderHaar intended, but he made the decision to step down because of a health issue. Though not life threatening, nerve damage in his legs makes it more difficult to stand for any period of time or walk.

"Which means I haven't been able to get out into the community, as much as I want to or even feel like I should," he said. "I think you should be out in the community as much as possible, and I have really struggled with that over the last, probably year and a half, of being able to do that."

When Wagner takes over Friday, VonderHaar expects operations to continue without a hiccup.

"He's been in on absolutely every decision that's been made in the last several years," he said. "It should be a seamless transition."

Are there big plans for retirement? Not at this time.

"Probably dust off my fishing poles," he said with a laugh.

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