Sheriff's kindnesses remembered
BY DANA STRONGIN
The Wichita Eagle
He picked up tree limbs in people's yards after the ice storm.
If there was a pancake breakfast or potluck supper, he was probably there.
And his family has been a staple in Greenwood County law enforcement for decades.
Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels, 42, was shot and killed while serving two warrants Wednesday in northeast Greenwood County.
Samuels' death shocked and saddened county residents, who said he was a good man and one of the friendliest people they'd ever known -- and they've known him for a long time.
Samuels grew up in Eureka, and was a talented wrestler and football player at the high school. He graduated in 1981.
Two years later, he married Tammy. Their daughter, Sharlee, is a sophomore at Eureka High School, and their son, Heath, is attending Washburn University in Topeka.
Samuels, an avid hunter, was president of the Kiwanis Club of Eureka and served as a district and county director of Special Olympics.
On Wednesday afternoon, Tammy Davis put up a sign at the Eureka Greenhouse telling the family that they were in everyone's thoughts.
"This is going to be really devastating," she said.
Samuels' experience with law enforcement started at home. His father, the late Charlie Samuels, was Greenwood County's sheriff until 1986.
Matt Samuels started working with his father in 1979 as a part-time jailer. He was elected sheriff in November 2000, and started his second four-year term just nine days before the shooting Wednesday.
Dick Clasen, editor and publisher of the Eureka Herald newspaper, said Samuels would have worked for a peaceful resolution to potential conflict.
"He's the type that would rather take care of a situation without confrontation, but if it needs to be done, he'll do it," he said.
Samuels loved working with kids, Clasen said. He set up a bicycle safety clinic and would help kids maneuver around obstacles and fix their bikes.
"He was like a teacher more than a sheriff," Eureka resident Mary Cook said. Children would run up to Samuels when they saw him coming.
Mary Ann Broyles, who works at the Eureka Senior Center, said one of the elderly ladies she drives around town would often talk about Samuels.
Samuels and his wife would check on the woman, their neighbor, and they even left their door unlocked for her during bad weather so she could escape her mobile home.
"He would do anything for you," said Dale Forcum, who works part time with Broyles.
Laura Barthlomew, wife of Undersheriff Kendel Barthlomew, and Virginia Pancow, wife of Deputy Jim Oakley, held hands as Samuels' death was confirmed at a news conference in the city building.
Their husbands were at the scene of the shooting Wednesday afternoon, they said, and it hurt -- to know about their county's loss, to know that their husbands could have been shot instead.
Pancow always tries to kiss her husband goodbye when he goes to work.
Because, she said, you never know -- that kiss could be the last.
Published in Wichita Eagle on Jan. 20, 2005.