One Auglaize County official described the loss of a former sheriff quite simply and succinctly — “We’ve lost a really great man.”
Former Auglaize County Sheriff Larry R. Longsworth, 62, died early Monday morning at a Columbus hospital from esophageal cancer after battling the disease during the past few months of his life.
“I had a great relationship with Larry, not only professionally but personally, and when he retired the respect that was shown to him by his employees and the camaraderie they had was something really special to witness — that really says what kind of a man he was,” Auglaize County Engineer Doug Reinhart said on Monday. “We’ve lost a really great man today.”
Reinhart described Longsworth, who served as sheriff for 16 years from 1989 to 2005, as a friend to him and the other elected officials and as a man with a lot of composure.
“He was always under control,” Reinhart said. “When I was around him it wasn’t in times of stress, but there was something about Larry that I am sure he was under control no matter how tense the situation could have gotten.
“I didn’t spend a lot of time or hours with him, but I just got that feeling about him — he was unflappable,” he said. “I really admired him.”
Auglaize County Commissioner John Bergman, who worked eight years with Longsworth as a county commissioner, described the former sheriff as a “very mild-mannered, no-nonsense law enforcement official.”
“In my opinion, Larry was more interested in doing his job right and was a low-profile official rather than wanting to be a high-profile sheriff,” Bergman said. “He just wanted to get the job done and do it right.”
Bergman said he admired Longsworth for the way he oversaw the transition of moving operations from a jail built in 1850 on South Blackhoof Street to the more modern $7.2 million Auglaize County Law Enforcement Center in 1998 “and all the responsibilities that came with that move.”
“I think the biggest thing was, which we don’t give much thought to, is the increase in the size of the staff at the Law Enforcement Center and the amount of time and work it takes to oversee the day-to-day operations of that facility itself,” Bergman said. “Those things just don’t happen and he had to oversee all that and make sure we met all the state and federal jail standards. Running the Law Enforcement Center is much more intense than people realize and he handled that transition very well.”
He said Longsworth always took care of things discreetly calling people to the side if he needed to discuss an issue with them and he handled things the best way he saw fit.
Along with overseeing the work of deputies, dispatchers, office staff and corrections officers, Bergman said he had to balance what was good for his workers with what was good for the voters and he did that admirably.
For St. Marys Police Chief Greg Foxhoven, he owed his start in law enforcement to Longsworth. At the time, a police academy cadet had to be sponsored and Longsworth and the Sheriff’s Office sponsored Foxhoven.
Longsworth started by placing the youngster on the Sheriff’s Office Auxiliary.
“As a young man going into his office to ask to be sponsored, he seemed very intimidating, but later I learned he was a very gracious, quiet and soft-spoken man,” said Foxhoven, who later became a St. Marys police officer and rose through the ranks to police chief. “We did work together later on in my career and near his retirement and it was interesting for me to go back and review the progress I had made from being scared to death the first time I met him to the man I later got to know.
“I think the relationship between the various law enforcement agencies was good and a lot of that was due to his efforts because the sheriff in the county is always trying to work with the other agencies, which I know is no easy task, and trying to get all these agencies to blend together is hard,” he said. “I think he did that very well.”
Foxhoven noted Longsworth was “well liked and well respected and his deputies showed him a tremendous amount of loyalty because of his style of leadership. He didn’t demand it, he earned it.”
Longsworth, who was born on Feb. 18, 1950, in Mercer County to Bernice (Nuss) and Robert Longsworth, served 31 years in law enforcement. After graduating from Wapakoneta High School in 1968, he served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, where he was awarded three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
During his years as sheriff, he was instrumental in establishing the county DARE (Drugs Awareness Resistance Education) program based off a program started in St. Marys and the creation of the Grand Lake Task Force and the county’s Special Response Team.
Sheriff Al Solomon started working with Longsworth in 1979 and the former sheriff trained Solomon.
“Personally, he was my friend first of all and he was instrumental in me becoming sheriff,” Solomon said. “You meet some people in your life, besides your father and mother, your family, who really make a difference in your life and he surely made a difference in my life.”
Solomon said he had the privilege to work under two great sheriffs — Jim Knoch and Larry Longsworth. Longsworth, whom he described as never having lost his composure, serves as one of his role models.
Longsworth gave Solomon two bits of advice.
“Personally, I admired just the way he was able to combine his personal life with his professional life at the Sheriff’s Office,” Solomon said. “He understood that some times you had to share events of the day with your wife or significant other to help blow off steam or face a tragic event, but you always protected the identity of the victim. He always told us that if the information gets out, you own it.”
The other lesson was the first bit of advice he gave Solomon as they drove around the county.
“One of the first things he told me was, ‘No matter what the call, no matter how serious it is or little of importance you think it is — it is very important to that person who calls in here at the time and you handle it that way,’” Solomon said. “’No matter what the call you take the most direct route you can to that house to talk to that person or victim’ and that was the first thing that he told me and I never forgot it because that was his thought about how the sheriff’s office should be run and how we should handle people.
“We try to continue that today.”
For a complete obituary on Sheriff Larry Longsworth, see Page 3A of the Wapakoneta Daily News.