Over 80 Barton County businesses and individuals banded together Friday to demonstrate gratitude to Barton County law enforcement with a Law Enforcement Appreciation Barbecue for Barton County officers from several different agencies and their families.
The come-and-go event, hosted by Kansas Trophy Experience of Great Bend, was open to all law enforcement personnel in Barton County, including Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Kansas Highway Patrol officers stationed in the county as well as the Barton County Sheriff’s Office and all municipal police departments in the county.
Organizers of the event say it started out a few weeks ago as a small effort to show appreciation for law enforcement officers in the county through a cookout at Jack Kilby Square.
“It’s to show that we appreciate our law enforcement, and we support them, that we’ve got their backs,” said Charlie Dixon, one of the organizers of the event.
But support for the event was overwhelming among individuals and businesses in Barton County, and the event grew to something much larger than originally planned.
Along with meals and drinks for officers and their families, local individuals and businesses donated several thousand dollars worth of door prizes, including Great Bend Chamber gift certificates, televisions, a Trager grill, and more. Dixon estimated the event wound up serving roughly 250-300 people, and because of the generosity of supporters, each one was able to receive a door prize.
Mostly, though, Dixon said the goal was to provide officers and their families an environment where they could relax and socialize away from the daily pressures of the job.
Organizers said one of their hopes was to counteract a national climate they feel is increasingly negative toward law enforcement, and let the officers and families know that their communities appreciated them and cared about them.
“Even though we might be a little insulated from what’s going on in the bigger cities, (officers) still go home and see it on the news every night, and it’s depressing,” Jennifer Dixon said. “This was meant to be an uplifiting event for Barton County law enforcement.”
Organizers felt it was important to include the officers’ families in the event, as well, because of the crucial role families play in the officers’ lives.
Derik Wilson, whose brother Billy Eldridge along with Trevor Olsen co-owns the Kansas Trophy Experience lodge where the event was held, said, “They send the person they love most in this world out everyday, and they have to worry about, ‘Are they coming home tonight? Are my kids going to see their dad or mother in the morning?’ That’s hard to do everyday.”
Randy Smith has been in law enforcement in the area since 1968, serving with the Great Bend Police Department, KBI, BCSO, and as an instructor at Barton Community College. He agrees family is a essential to what officers do.
Smith, whose late son David Smith, worked for the BCSO, and daughter-in-law, Heather Smith, is a detective for the GBPD, said, “The family is just as involved in law enforcement as the officer is.”
As a law enforcement officer, and as part of a family of law enforcement officers, Smith said he’s grateful for the gratitude the event and events like it show to the law enforcement community, and his family personally.
Randy’s son David passed away of cancer earlier this year, and for Smith, it’s also a way to celebrate his son’s life and work, as well.
“This is still a part of David,” he said. “This is what David lived for.”
Smith said though each officer is different, what he feels motivates most officers is a desire to help others and a dedication to community service, and it is a close knit community he is proud to be a part of.
“(Law enforcement) is everybody working together, everyone coming together to make it work,” Randy said.