When I moved to Cassville in 1986 as a new wife and graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Jimmy Hopkins was serving as Barry County sheriff. During those first years in Cassville, I worked as a reporter and interim editor of the Cassville Democrat for the Mitchell family. I'll always be grateful to Bob Mitchell for affording me the opportunity to learn the newspaper business from a seasoned professional. He took a chance on a new J-School grad, and realizing that, I worked extra hard to make sure I never let him down.
When I look back, I realize how green I was, and I also remember how kind Sheriff Hopkins was to me when I interviewed him for news stories involving the sheriff's office. In college, I had worked for the Columbia Missourian and excelled at writing human interest feature stories. When I joined the Democrat staff, I had written very few hard news stories, and I had a lot to learn.
Jimmy seemed to realize my naiveté and helped me through those early awkward interviews where I was unsure what I could ask and what I needed to ask to get the full story. He was very professional, and I considered him one of the first "sources" I was able to cultivate as a reporter. He probably doesn't even remember those encounters, because he was just doing his job, but to me, they were an important part of my growth as a newspaper journalist.
I bring up my history with Jimmy, because this week, he officially retires from a career in law enforcement that spans 34 years. Jimmy served as a member of the Cassville Police Department for five years, as sheriff for nine years and then as a park ranger at Roaring River State Park from 1989 to the present. Jimmy has enjoyed a distinguished law enforcement career, and because of his dedication and professionalism, Barry County is a safer and better place to live.
Over the years, I would see Jimmy at Opening Day as he and his fellow park rangers from across the state handled crowd control and parking. I also had the opportunity once or twice to interview Jimmy again in reference to park issues or a prestigious award he received from the state. I'd like to think I conducted myself with more maturity during those interviews, but I do know without a doubt it was always a pleasure to have an excuse to chat with Jimmy.
I know that Jimmy will be missed greatly at Roaring River State Park. Visitors who have been coming to the park over the past 21 years have gotten to know Jimmy because it has always been his practice to visit with campers and anglers while he makes nightly rounds through the park. I'm sure knowing Jimmy was around made them feel safe and protected, and I have had several people tell me they always looked forward to visits from Jimmy.
I want to personally thank Jimmy for serving Barry County as sheriff for two terms and for serving the state of Missouri as a Roaring River Park Ranger for 21 years. Your selfless service deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. Area residents will have the opportunity to thank Jimmy Hopkins personally during a special reception that will be held in his honor next Tuesday, Sept. 7 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Roaring River State Park's Emory Melton Inn and Conference Center. The event is open to the public, and I hope to see you there.