…but he says he’ll “still be around”
Life, and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office will go on, but neither will ever be quite the same without Deputy Steve Degner, who retired this week after 35 years of service. Degner leaves the MCSO as the longest tenured employee, but some might say the greater feat was in the attendance at his retirement celebration of the current and three former Sheriffs, all of whom Degner served under.
Former Sheriffs Guy Williams, Joe Corley and Tommy Gage were in attendance, along with Sheriff Rand Henderson. Two former MCSO Captains attended as well – all to pay tribute.
Sheriff Rand Henderson characterized Degner as “the guy who would give you the shirt off his back” and said how much he appreciated Degner’s loyalty and friendship. Henderson said, as an example, when Hurricane Ike came through Montgomery County, his children were small and he was nervous about leaving them and his wife when he went to work. Henderson said he made one phone call and that was to Steve Degner. He asked Degner to check on his household, and he did.
“I’m forever in your debt for that,” Henderson said.
“Friendship – that’s what it’s all about,” Degner replied.
Henderson said of Degner, “Anyone that knows him loves him.”
Former Sheriff Joe Corley spoke next. Corley said he and his wife were talking about Degner’s retirement at breakfast and how people these days just don’t understand the contribution folks like Steve Degner have made.
“When he started, (pay) was about $1,600 a month,” Corley said. “It was a living – that was all.”
He then turned to Degner and said “You’re one of my very best friends. It’s a privilege to have worked with you.”
Former Sheriff Guy Williams spoke after Corley. Williams said his wife told him not to tell stories about Degner… but he did.
Williams said one night Degner was on duty and called him at his house, saying, “Sheriff, I’m out here on the side of the road with your niece-“
“I said put her in jail,” Williams said. “PUT HER IN JAIL,” he said, as Degner said, “But…” The two men ended the discussion. The next morning, Williams said he pulled up at the Sheriff’s Office and there was Degner, sitting with his clipboard, and said “Sheriff, I couldn’t put her in jail. I just wrote her a bunch of tickets.” Williams responded, “Steve, I don’t have any nieces, all I have are nephews.”
Williams said Degner was “always in the middle of something” and added if anyone ever has an employee who never draws a complaint, they aren’t doing anything. He and others also mentioned how they enjoyed the cakes Degner’s wife, Pam, would make for them.
Former Sheriff Tommy Gage said he went to work for Sheriff Joe Corely in 1982.
“We’ve been working together all these years, and there’s not a more loyal employee, not a more dedicated man that ever wore a badge, and when the mess hit the fan, Steve was always right there,” Gage said.
“He never slacked off, he always gave extra,” Gage said. “He’s been a good friend of mine and everybody in here.”
He said it was an honor to have served with Steve Degner, then turned to him and said “I love you like a brother.”
Former Captain and current Reserve Deputy Sam Lynch told a story of a pursuit of Degner’s in the early 1980’s that began in Grangerland when someone fired a shot at a house. It ended after the chase went up Willis Waukegan and District 1 deputies, including Lynch, had a roadblock waiting. The Toyota stopped, Lynch said, but then decided to take off again. When they did, Degner was already out of his patrol vehicle and tried to pull one of the suspects through the vent window, according to Lynch. About that time, another deputy noticed a gun on the ground and began alerting the others that the suspects had thrown out a pistol. However, it turned out to be Degner’s which had fallen from his holster as he struggled to pull the suspect out of the car.
“Nobody could call him lazy,” Lynch said. “He was always there. Sometimes he was there when we didn’t necessarily call him, but he was there.”
Like others, Lynch characterized Degner as someone who’d “give you the shirt off his back. Lynch said he treasured Degner’s friendship, as well as the many ‘war stories’ they couldn’t tell.
Former Captain Ken Ariola said he would get frustrated at being stuck in the office, and would get out on the road – always as Degner’s passenger. He said Degner would ask him what he wanted to know, and he cautioned others not to do the same if they didn’t want to hear the truth, because that’s exactly what they would get.
“He’s the most honest guy in the world,” Ariola said. “He will tell you what the real deal is – like our sheriff said, this is a true friend.”
Sheriff Henderson presented Degner with a plaque dated February 4, 1983 to August 31, 2017. Degner also received a retired deputy badge and the second ever presented “MCSO retiree watch.”
Degner addressed the crowd, saying how much he enjoyed working in Montgomery County and calling it an honor and a privilege to work for the MCSO. He said he worked with the county as law enforcement, medical and search and rescue (which he continues to do, as President of Montgomery County Search and Rescue).
“What a great profession we have,” Degner said. “I spent most of the time with the thin blue line brotherhood. We have fought, cried, bled, laughed and prayed all together – I will miss all of you.”
“I will always say with pride that I was a part of a great sheriff’s office,” he said. “Keep the brotherhood going. Remember – I’ve got your six.”
Even the dispatchers were represented to honor Degner, presenting Degner with an afghan, handmade by Fay Pilkington, displaying the MCSO patch and the years of his service.
Degner then revealed what some knew, and some didn’t. He and Pam have a special needs daughter, who was also in attendance. He always worked nights so he could take care of her in the daytime while his wife worked days. He appreciated how the sheriff’s cooperated and helped him keep that schedule.
His wife Pam retired around six years ago. She taught deaf students for Conroe ISD. The family plans to travel. Degner says Mount Rushmore is at the top of his list, as well as Alaska where he wants to see the Northern Lights in person. They’ll have to travel by ground because they need a vehicle that will accommodate his daughter’s wheelchair, so he says they will wait until next spring or summer to visit Alaska.
When he isn’t traveling, Degner says he’ll still be around Montgomery County, remaining President of Montgomery County Search and Rescue and as an Adjunct EMS Instructor for the Hospital District. He also recently completed Red Cross Disaster Shelter Setup Training, and he has a hunting lease he plans to frequent. Degner says he shoots a deer now and then, but he doesn’t mind if he comes home empty handed because he just likes to be in the woods.
Steve Degner followed in his father’s footsteps. He proudly displays a photo of Stan Degner in the 1950’s beside his patrol car in Lake Beach, Illinois. He lost his dad in 1978, but kept his legacy alive and hung onto to his dad’s badge. Degner also went back to where his dad served and gave local historians a short video clip he had of his dad on duty.
Of his retirement celebration, Degner seemed most pleased with having all four sheriffs present, which Pam Degner arranged. He was also thrilled with the shadow box he received, handmade by Deputy Mike Silvio, containing all four patches as well as ID cards, keys, and other bits and pieces of his three-and-a-half-decade career in law enforcement.
As for Montgomery County Police Reporter, aka Scott and Jamie, we are not saying “goodbye” to Steve Degner. (He assured us of that!) However, we are saying “thank you” for the years of friendship and not only for tolerating two sometimes overeager reporters, together or separately, but for being someone we could trust – someone everyone could trust.
Degner says Sheriff Henderson allowed him to keep a radio and his unit number, and we found some comfort in that.
Congratulations, Steve Degner – thanks for the laughs and thanks for the memories! ~ Jamie & Scott