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After more than 40 years working at the Elizabethtown Police Department, Chief Ruben Gardner said the one thing that continues to baffle him is people’s inhumanity toward one another.
“I’ve seen brothers kill brothers and a few hours later they’ll be asleep when we go get them,” Gardner said. “It’s really mind boggling to see that kind of behavior.”
Gardner, 65, is retiring at the end of July. Despite the sometimes dark nature of the job, he said what he enjoys about law enforcement and what has pushed him to continue working is the opportunity to help others.
“It’s the self satisfaction of feeling like you’re doing something to help other people, even though sometimes you’re putting people in jail,” Gardner said. “It’s contributing to the community.”
Originally from LaRue County, Gardner started working for EPD in January 1970. He began as a patrolman and worked his way up to chief, a position he’s held since 1990.
Charlie Bryant, city executive assistant, said Gardner’s experience in multiple areas of the department, extensive police training and personality contributed to his selection as chief in 1990.
“He has a very unassuming way about going about doing his job and he certainly never tries to make it about himself but made it about the job to get done,” Bryant said.
Gardner didn’t know he wanted to be a police officer until he had been out of high school for some time, he said.
“I’m not one of those people who had a burning desire to be a policeman when I was in kindergarten or anything,” he said.
Gardner said he became interested when he met some officers who encouraged him to consider joining the department. When he eventually was accepted into the department, he was excited.
“You don’t go out looking for a job and become a policeman. It’s a dedication,” Gardner said. “You have to enjoy it, all the aspects of it. It can be very stressful. It can be very stressful for the family, and it’s not for everyone.”
Having been on the investigation and administration side of the department, Gardner said he’s enjoyed all aspects of police work. However, he said his work as police chief has been the most rewarding.
In his 21 years as police chief, Gardner has several accomplishments he’s proud of, he said, listing the department’s accreditation, the organization of the Greater Hardin Narcotics Task Force and the department’s new building.
“(Gardner) took the Elizabethtown Police Department from being in a three-or-four-room office, just overcrowded, to – look at the fine building they're in now,” Elizabethtown Fire Chief Michael Hulsey said. “He’s expanded the work force and investigative side of it. His fingerprints are all over the EPD, and that’s going to be hard to replace.”
However, before even mentioning his proudest accomplishments as chief, Gardner makes a point to mention his coworkers at EPD who also were instrumental in moving the department forward.
“I’ve had a lot of good people around me that put forth a lot of effort to make things happen,” Gardner said. “I certainly don’t take credit for all of the good things that happen in this police department. It took a lot of people.”
Hardin County Sheriff Charlie Williams said the fact that Gardner started as a patrolman and made it all the way to chief is an accomplishment in itself. Furthermore, his 21-year stint as chief also is a rare feat.
“Most of your chiefs throughout the country, their tenure is totally dependent upon the mayor since that’s an appointed position,” Williams said. “Usually if the mayor changes, the chief changes. Ruben has always had a good relationship on the political side, too.”
When discussing Ruben Gardner and his work, a common theme seems to surface whether you’re talking to Gardner himself or people who work with him. The soon-to-be-retired chief is serious about training.
“He’s always been a very strong advocate for training, and sometimes that has been difficult in the sense of the support that it requires, both from the standpoint of administration and the department,” Bryant said. “There’s a cost to it. Not just in the training itself but there’s a cost to maintain coverage while people are doing the training.”
But Gardner always fought for what he believed was necessary training, and Bryant said the city always supported it and found it to be worth the cost.
Williams said Gardner helped the sheriff’s office after his friend, Charlie Logsdon, was elected to the office in 1985.
“(Twenty-six years ago) the Department of Criminal Justice Training didn’t really recognize us as law enforcement officers,” he said. “One day you weren’t a police officer and the next day you were, without the training, so Ruben was really good at working with us and training.”
In fact, Williams said Gardner taught him how to finger print.
Gardner does not have any immediate plans after retirement, he said. His plans are to take it one day at a time.
“I’m not going out with another career in mind or another job in mind,” he said. “I’m going out thinking about doing things with the grandchildren and traveling and just enjoying life for a while.”
Gardner and his wife, Jeanette, have been married for 48 years. They have two children, Darrin and Nathan, and three grandchildren.
Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or firstname.lastname@example.org.