For nearly five decades, Bob Chamness served Wayne County citizens with the sheriff’s department, probation department and county council.

Chamness, 72, died March 3, and how much he will be missed was evident during county government meetings March 6. Somber council members and others shared their feelings and memories about Chamness.

“(If) you watch Bob walk into this building, you’d see how many people loved him,” said Beth Leisure, the council president. “He’d get hugs from everybody, and he was just very well-respected.”

Bob Chamness

She remembered Chamness asking, “How’s things in Cambridge City? You got everybody under control?” For Max Smith, Chamness’ greeting was, “How’s things in Hagerstown?” For Gary Saunders, “How’s things in Economy?”

“He’ll truly be missed,” said Saunders, who called Chamness “a true public servant.”

Chamness achieved the rank of lieutenant while working as a jail officer, assistant jail commander and patrol officer for the sheriff’s department. He then became the county’s chief probation officer until retiring in 2014. That year, he won council’s District 1 seat, replacing Al Dillon, who had served 12 years. Chamness was reelected in 2018 and 2022.

Smith worked about 40 years alongside Chamness within county government.

“We got along great,” Smith said. “Bob will be missed. Bob was a great asset to the county.”

Tony Gillam called Chamness an independent thinker.

“He had a wealth of knowledge, unbelievable stories and information that he could provide in helping us guide the county,” Gillam said. 

Chamness frequently told him that if Gillam could clone his dog, Chamness wanted one of the clones. Gillam said Chamness now can see that dog again.

“Bob will really be missed,” Gillam said.

Chamness’ impact on government continues through others. Steve Higinbotham, the county’s director of facilities and development, said Chamness brought him into county government in 1988 by hiring him to lead the county’s community corrections department. Cathy Williams, a former county treasurer, said Chamness encouraged her to run for an at-large council seat and share her perspectives, including as a woman.

“But also because having been a full-time employee, like Bob was, we see things a little differently,” Williams said. “He was very encouraging and just a wonderful man. 

“I think Bob put God first, his family and then Wayne County. Well, IU fits in there somewhere. If you knew Bob Chamness, you’d have to say that. He was a die-hard IU fan.”

Smith said he and Chamness had fun disagreeing about sports involving Indiana University and Smith’s favored Purdue University. Gillam jumped in on Chamness’ side.

“Contrary to what Max said, he knew what he was talking about with football and basketball,” Gillam said of Chamness.

Barry Ritter, a former Richmond Police Department officer, wore a blue shirt to the council meeting. He said Chamness would say that Ritter was Chamness’ favorite “guy in blue.”

“The word that comes to mind with him is wisdom, because I was young and eager and he was always calm and methodical,” Ritter said. “He’d say things like, ‘Now, Barry, that’s not how we do things. Stop and think.’ That never changed.

“He will be missed. He was a dear friend and just a wise individual.”

Commissioner Jeff Plasterer honored Chamness before his presentation to council. Plasterer said he worked with Chamness about 25 years between his time on council and commissioners.

“(He was) always willing to spend time to go over information and make sure everyone understood where we were at, what his perspective was,” Plasterer said of Chamness as the probation leader. “He did the same thing on council. It’s been a pleasure to work with him.”

Commissioners also remembered Chamness at the start of their afternoon meeting March 6. Brad Dwenger said Chamness would be missed, and Mary Anne Butters said, “It’s a sad day, indeed.”

When Sheriff Randy Retter appeared before council, he said many knew Chamness as “Uncle Bob.” Retter appreciated Chamness’ support of law enforcement and the sheriff’s department.

“Honestly, there are few people that we all know that can boast all the things that he has done, not only for our community, but my goodness, a day shy of 50 years of service to our community is fantastic,” Retter said. “He’ll be missed by me, he’ll be missed by many, both professionally and personally.”

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A version of this article appeared in the March 13 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.