County councilman Tim Crowley remembers a time, long ago, when he told Sheriff Mike Morris that, if he played his cards right, he could be sheriff for 10 years.
He'd been appointed to fill the two years remaining in Steve Luce's term after Luce resigned in 2008.
Two years later, Morris was elected to the position. Four years after that, he was elected again.
“He laughed. And I laughed,” Crowley told the crowd gathered at the Vincennes Fortnightly Clubhouse, 421 N.Sixth St., on Tuesday afternoon.
“But he did it,” he said, giving Morris an appreciative nod. “And he was excellent.”
County council members on Tuesday paid tribute to Morris as he looks to retire from his post as sheriff at the end of the year, having reached his term limit.
His sons, Aaron and Luke, were on hand as were other members of his immediate family as he was presented with a Sagamore of the Wabash, one of the state's highest recognitions.
“I had no idea, none. But my family's here,” he said gesturing to the back of the room. “And in law enforcement we call those clues.”
Morris took a moment, still grasping the large award in his hands, to reflect on the last decade of his service as sheriff — and to the some 30 years before that in local law enforcement.
“When you first start this job,” he told the crowd, “you think it's never going to end.
“Then you turn a corner, and it's there,” he said, his voice breaking. “So after all these years, I'll park my car and go home.”
County council members each took a turn singing Morris' praises, none of them coming up short with deserved accolades.
Council president Bob Lechner said he didn't just fill the position of sheriff when Luce stepped down eight years ago, Morris “recreated it.” He paved the path, Lechner said, with “professionalism” and, along the way, gave his deputies unwavering support.
“He doubled the size of our department,” Lechner said, “and put officers in all of our county schools.
“He took over the jail just after it opened,” he said, “and he ran it just as we'd hoped, as a business.”
Lechner touted Morris for taking on and housing state inmates, an endeavor that, over the years, has generated $4 million, money that, Lechner pointed out, didn't come out of taxpayer pockets.
Councilman Jim Beery said Morris' regular post at the back of the Fortnightly Clubhouse during monthly meetings brought him “ease and comfort.” And he said he “exemplified courage in that he's one of those that go forward where others retreat.”
Nichole Like, who, too, is stepping down at the end of the year after two terms on the council, said she appreciated Morris' service and his dedication to nurturing “professional and well-trained” deputies, while Randy Crismore, a retired city police officer, joked about all the times spent sharing the road as law enforcement officers, together for the “good, the bad and the ugly.”
“You always put your men first,” Crismore said. “You made sure they had the best equipment. You took to heart the safety of every officer. And I'm grateful.”
David Culp, too, called Morris “a perfect example of integrity and honesty.”
Morris won't, however, won't stray very far, and for that, council members said they were grateful.
After the first of the year, Morris will become county auditor, having run unopposed for the post in the November election.
The Sagamore of the Wabash is an honorary award created by former Indiana Gov. Ralph Gates, who served from 1945 to 1949.
The term sagamore was the term used for American Indian tribal chiefs.
Each governor since Gates has presented the certificates in his own way, and until 2006, it was the state's highest honor, a personal tribute given to those who rendered distinguished service to the state or to the governor directly.
Among local winners are Kirk Bouchie, the late Myrna Brown, Phyllis Sweeney, Robert “Gus” Stevens, Don Villwock and the late Rowe Sargent.