“I was really surprised,” said Fishers Police Chief George Kehl. “We were at the IACP (Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police) Conference and in walked Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman carrying this award. I really had no idea it was coming.”
Kehl, the Town of Fishers’ longest tenured employee and Chief of Police, was honored as Sagamore of the Wabash on Feb. 7 for his local community involvement and service at the state level with Indiana police organizations. The award is reserved for astronauts, politicians, presidents, ambassadors and ordinary citizens who have contributed to our Hoosier heritage. Chief Kehl definitely meets this criteria.
The Sagamore of the Wabash award was created during the term of Gov. Ralph Gates, who served from 1945 to 1949. The term “Sagamore” was used by the American Indian Tribes of the northeastern United States to describe a lesser chief or a great man among the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice.
So where did this Sagamore of the Wabash recipient get his start?
“I started working part-time for the police department in the late ‘70’s while I was working in the grocery business,” Kehl recalled as I sat with him and his wife, Jennifer, who heads up the Fishers Freedom Festival. “I worked right out of high school at the Preston Safeway store on 62nd and State Road 37. Later, I took a promotion to be the night manager at another Safeway at 30th and Shadeland. That area was booming back then, and it was a pretty big deal.”
With the writing on the wall at Preston Safety in 1978, Kehl took a full-time job as Fishers’ Police Chief. A position appointed by the Fishers Town Council, he’s held that job for the last 29 years. Since his original date of hire in 1978, the Fishers Police Department has increased from one sworn police officer to 88 sworn officers.
Kehl had a lot of nice things to say about his colleagues, persons he noted as “good people.” Perhaps his most glowing review came of newly appointed Town Manager Gary Huff.
“He’s done more for our department in the last year than anyone has done in the previous 28 years,” Kehl said as he nodded his head with affirmation. “Gary is a great communicator, and he’s always keeping everyone informed in the town government. Morale is very high because of that.”
That high morale spills over to the officers on the streets as well. Several new programs have evolved over the years under Kehl’s leadership that proactively reach out to Fishers residents.
“The Citizens Academy has been a huge success for us,” he points out. “We take ordinary citizens through the entire police training process, showing them how to take fingerprints, defensive tactics and do everything we do except fire a firearm.”
As a result of the programs’ success (53 members to date), a Citizens Academy Alumni Association was formed about a year ago so graduates of the program can stay in touch.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Jennifer and George’s oldest son, Greg, is graduating from Ball State this spring and looking to join the Indiana State Police.
“He wanted to pursue a music career until a few years ago,” Jennifer said. “Greg still helps out a high school marching band during the summer months, so I guess he’s getting his taste of music from that.”
The Kehls have one other son, Geoffery, who is a junior at Mosaics in Carmel. They also have two smaller girls that require much more attention and have matching white, curly hair: their dogs Hope and Faith. “They run our house,” George confessed.
Certainly, Chief Kehl’s work record and years of service are exemplary. His service to various state police organizations is admirable. Being named Sagamore of the Wabash is a great honor. But after talking with Chief Kehl briefly and hearing his colleagues, friends and other town employees talk about him, George Kehl doesn’t do his job to get the awards. He truly sees his position as an opportunity to help others, and that’s a reward he contently wears inside every day.
“I really love what I do,” he said. “I don’t like the discipline side of things very well, and if anyone does, they are doing this for the wrong reasons. But I love the camaraderie, and I love the people I get to work with. I’m truly blessed.”