Yesterday, we broke the news of Undersheriff David Wagner’s impending July 3rd retirement from the Kane County Sheriff’s office. This is one case where the private sector’s gain will most certainly be our loss because Dave is one of the best there is.
And that typically entails navigating all the political staff pitfalls while keeping the big guy’s best interest in mind. Not only has Dave navigated that potential minefield with aplomb, he never let the position go to his head.
So as I was about to launch into my fondest Dave Wagner memories when I realized that sounds like he’s done a lot more than just retire. So let’s go with my favorite Dave Wagner stories instead.
1. His complete cancer recovery.
I’d be willing to bet you never knew Dave endured a seven-hour 2010 surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his heart. The only reason I was aware of it was because Sheriff Pat Perez told me.
While folks like me ceaselessly bitch about silly things like shin splints, Dave never complained about something that could’ve been critical. C’mon! How easy would it have been for a guy who’s always been in great shape, eats right, and generally takes care of himself, to become bitter and blame the cruel fates?
On my occasional calls during his recuperation, Dave was always upbeat and looking forward to the future. I’m convinced his positive attitude and refusal to dwell on any negative possibility played a huge role in his complete recovery.
2. Facing down a foul mouthed Karen McConnaughay with class.
There were so many incidents, I can’t remember the former Chairman’s particular fit of pique. But she was horked off at the Sheriff for something – again! And when the Sheriff wasn’t in building A parking lot range, McConnaughay tore into Dave Wagner like a monkey on a cupcake.
Never one to take the bait, he simply got in his car and drove away.
Of course, word got back to me, but Dave asked me not to run the story because it might reflect poorly on the Chairman and the Sheriff. So I didn’t.
3. His willingness to help anyone anytime.
Dave happened to be in the office when a County Clerk staffer was experiencing some serious breathing difficulties. After refusing an ambulance, I asked Dave if he could help her get to the doctor. He immediately said yes and when she turned that down too, Dave followed her all the way home to be sure she was OK.
Apparently, watching a squad car pull right up behind their arriving mother scared the bleep out of her kids, but if you can’t give your children a heart attack in your old age then you’re not really living.
All that said, the story that’s the best measure of the man, is how Dave stepped into and succeeded in the undersheriff role during a very difficult time in the department.
Former Undersheriff Steve Ziman had just departed under a cloud and, while I wouldn’t say the Sheriff was suffering a crisis of confidence, anytime your second in command disappoints you, it portends a time of serious reflection.
The economy sucked, cuts were being thrust upon every elected official, and the Sheriff’s office was consistently put in the position of explaining minute details to the County Board.
Personally, I wouldn’t have touched that no-win gig with a 10 foot pole, but Dave made it work.
You see, Dave Wagner is exactly the kind of person you want in law enforcement. He can disarm you with his perpetual smile. He has the unique capacity to make you think the course of action he just suggested was your idea all along. And he never takes himself too seriously.
He can handle the public, the press and county board members and, of the three, we know which ones are the worst. There’s a reason he’s survived three separate sheriffs, one of whom was a bit more difficult than the others.
Trust me, I can understand why so many officers eventually succumb to the Sisyphean nature of the task, but I’ve never seen Dave come across as jaded. I swear he’s just as excited about going to work today as he was his first day on the job.
This sentiment is overused, but we really can learn something from Dave Wagner.
As previously reported, the almost former Undersheriff is excited to be opening his own polygraph firm and he looks forward to all the challenges that endeavor will bring. Of course, I can say with certainly that his success is as inevitable as traffic on Randall Road.
So I’d say “good luck” but Dave doesn’t need it. He makes his own luck.