SALINE COUNTY -- Keith Brown wasn't in a big hurry to pack the contents of his office Friday morning.
Instead, the newly retired Saline County sheriff and former Illinois State Police officer took his time, talking about the stories behind awards and old photos that chronicled a sliver of the time Brown has spent in law enforcement.
"There are a lot of memories here," Brown said.
He began his career in 1978 as jail administrator for former Sheriff George Henley in 1978, when the jail was housed in the basement of the Saline County Courthouse.
In 1979, Brown was hired as a patrolman for the city of Harrisburg, where he worked for about 18 months. In 1981, he was hired to become a trooper for the Illinois State Police. After graduating from the ISP Academy, he was assigned to District 18 in Litchfield. He was able to transfer to District 19, headquartered in Carmi, in 1983.
Twice while working for ISP, he received a Veterans of Foreign Wars award for helping to save a person's life. In 1985, he helped locate an elderly person with dementia who had wandered out of the house in cold weather. He received the VFW Guardian of Life award again in 1988 for helping to locate a young woman who had attempted to commit suicide.
"Both of those mean a lot to me," Brown said. "It's not that I received an award. It's that we saved a person's life who very likely wouldn't have lived otherwise."
He credits his wife, Nina, for him being able to work in law enforcement for so many years. Nina's father was former Saline County Sheriff Jim Thompson.
"This is a career that is tough on a marriage," Brown said. "But, she knows the difficulties and challenges that come with the job. She's the reason I've had the success that I've had."
He also said he's proud of their two grown children, son Cameron and stepdaughter Lauren. He also said, laughing, that he tried to encourage Cameron to follow Nina's career path into law instead of enforcing the law. Cameron has served as an officer for the Nashville Metro Police for six years, Brown said.
As Brown continued his career with ISP, he received numerous promotions. He became a K-9 officer in 1987, and was promoted to District 19 Trooper First Class in 1988. In 1992, he became an ISP technical accident investigator, and the following year he was named a traffic accident reconstructionist. He also was promoted to sergeant in 1993.
In 1996, he was chosen as the Illinois State Police Officer of the Year. The next year, he was promoted to master sergeant, and he was the administrative officer for ISP District 19 from 2000 to 2006, when he was elected to the sheriff's office.
During his 12 years in office, challenges have been fiscal.
"The county has been losing money, and when you're the elected county official with the largest budget, your office becomes a target," he said.
Despite cuts to funding and loss of manpower through attrition, Brown said he feels his office has pulled its share during his tenure.
"In my 12 years here, we've brought in $2.6 million by housing out-of-county and federal jail residents," Brown said. "That's money the county would not have if it wasn't for the sheriff's department during that 12 years."
His department also has provided countless hours of community service by jail residents, he said.
"We've gone out and cleaned up areas, and worked on a variety of projects," he said.
One of those projects is raising a garden each year. Brown, a University of Illinois Extension-certified Master Gardener, has taught those staying in the jail how to grow a garden.
"Some of them have never been around a garden and have had no idea how to raise vegetables," he said. "We've taught them a useful skill, and how to take pride in a project from start to finish. Plus, we use the vegetables we grow for meals for the jail residents, and we give away the excess to food pantries and meal programs."
Besides the support from his family, Brown credits his hardworking staff with making his 12 years in office productive ones.
"I cannot say enough good things about the men and women who work in this department," he said. "The people who work for the Saline County Sheriff's Office are dedicated to their job and to public safety. I couldn't have asked for a better staff."