During the past 34 years, Sgt. Tom Wallace has seen the Cass County Sheriff’s Department grow from eight men to 18, change from pay phone calls to instant messaging and undergo the much-needed implementation of 24-hour coverage.
On Thursday, Wallace said goodbye to the department upon his official retirement. Wallace has worked with the department since 1978, when he started out as a road deputy and then moved to a sergeant, a detective and then back to the road.
Wallace always knew that he wanted to be an officer as he grew up in Logansport and modeled himself after his father, Joe “Smiley” Wallace, who worked in the Logansport Police Department.
“My whole life I wanted to be in law enforcement,” Wallace said.
But Wallace’s career actually began as a dog catcher for the county. Then he moved up to a dispatcher until he was called out of the office one day, told he would be a deputy and brought into a board meeting for confirmation.
He started out on the night shift as a road deputy and requested to return to the shift after being a detective because he enjoyed it so much. On the night shift, Wallace said he would feel a sense of accomplishment when he looked at the reports the next morning and saw that it was clear of any burglaries, crashes or incidents as a result of his patrolling.
“It felt great,” Wallace said. “It felt like I’d done something.”
One of Wallace’s initiatives on the night shift was to be visible for people in the community so that they would know the police were out and patrolling. Wallace would leave his mark at businesses, and in one case on top of a farmer’s gas tank, by leaving his business card and letting them know he’d been there.
In the early days of the sheriff’s department, Wallace said there were four officers in a car and only two mobile radios in the department — one to be shared among all of the officers and another for the sheriff. When officers wanted to talk to anyone outside of the radio frequency, dispatch would direct them to the nearest pay phone, where they would sometimes have to wait in line before talking on the phone.
That all changed as officers got their own cars with cell phones and computers inside.
“I can do everything inside the car today that you never believed we’d have when we started,” Wallace said.
One of Wallace’s first calls resulted in a punch to the face, as he was called to a domestic brawl and opened the door to find a fist.
But one call that remains with Wallace is when he was called to the scene of a mass murder in 1979. In that case, John Wall, a 22-year-old from Hoover, had killed five of his family members.
The scene was shocking, but Wallace said he later came to know Wall as he transported him to his court hearings.
“He just clicked with me,” Wallace said. “He was never a problem.”
He also witnessed the explosion at the ESSROC plant in Clymers in 2000 as he drove by in his squad car.
“It looked like a fireball in the shape of a sombrero,” Wallace said.
At different crime scenes, Sheriff Randy Pryor, who was then a state trooper, said he often interacted with Wallace and was impressed by his work. In fact, one of Wallace’s biggest strengths, Pryor said, was working with other agencies.
“Tom has always had a good rapport with the officers he interacted with across the United States,” said Pryor.
Wallace said he doesn’t have any retirement plans yet. And while he said he’s ready to retire, he says he would do it again.
“If you were to give me a quarter, I’d put it in the ride and do it all over again,” Wallace said.
• Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be Reached at 574-732-5148 or email@example.com.