VOICES: In memory of Sheriff Gene C. Fischer

The meeting was not what I expected. When the Greene County Public Library, the Greene County Sheriff’s Department and my non-profit, Story Chain, signed a Memorandum of Understanding, Library President Karl Colon and the Sheriff dominated the conversation with their ham radio adventures. Turns out Fisher and Colon were avid amateur radio enthusiasts. Major Kirk Keller and myself watched in wonderment as these two ham(sters) talked incessantly.

The Hamvention or Hamfest — one of the largest conventions of its kind in the world — moved to Greene County Fairgrounds from Hara Arena in 2017. With more than 30,000 visitors, this event could be a nightmare for a medium-sized town such as Xenia. Not only did Sheriff Fischer take this challenge in stride, he became an avid operator himself — eventually earning several ham radio licenses — and found the Ham Radio 4H program in Xenia with the Ohio State Extension Office.

“And he was one of the two people who recruited me to get my licenses” wrote Colon, “Gene could be very persuasive.”

“Gene and I were very good friends,” continued Colon. “His deep concern for the safety and happiness of Greene County’s citizens made him a great champion for the library. He was an extraordinary person and public servant, and his kind presence is sorely missed.”

Federal Judge Walter H. Rice of the United States Southern District of Ohio also expressed his sorrow for a man he felt had great strength and leadership, and what resonated with the Judge the most was the compassion and understanding the sheriff had for the people under his charge. Early last year, Judge Rice came to Greene County Jail to observe the Sheriff’s Greene Leaf program, a unique program that serves 20 women and 20 men who agree to face their addiction issues. Sheriff Fischer believed in it so much that he refused to suspend it during COVID.

And he was always kind and supportive to me and my program. He believed children separated from their families needed all the help they could get — especially very young kids separated from their mothers. That’s why he supported and defended my stance to work with only women in the Greene Leaf program. But Judge Beth W. Cappelli of Fairborn Municipal Courts countered that if we have a program for the women, we have to work with the fathers, too. The Sheriff and I lost that argument with the judge, and I’m glad we did — the fathers’ positive responses to the program has surprised us all.

For a guy whose job was to enforce the strong arm of the law, I saw a sweet caring man with a child-like curiosity for the world around him and a heart bigger than a house. Story Chain has received thousands of dollars from the Sheriff’s Department in the form of staff support, mobile book cabinets and scores of MP3 players. Support aside, I lost a good friend who believed in me.

Jonathan Platt is the Executive Director of Story Chain, a non-profit specializing in literacy intervention that serves populations including jails, prisons, senior homes and families of the disabled.

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