Just over 11 years ago, Gary Dewees stepped into a newly created position as Brown Circuit Court bailiff and set an example those who worked with him will never forget.
A Brown County Sheriff’s Department reserve deputy since 1982, Dewees went from a materials manager at Cummins to bailiff in April 2005.
“I’ve always been impressed with law enforcement, and unfortunately at my age then, I couldn’t get into law enforcement full time,” he said.
With no previous occupant in Dewees’ position, he had to find a way to balance everything from securing the courthouse to summoning jurors to gathering case files.
“I just had to figure out how was the best way for me to get it done to meet their needs,” he said.
But talk to anyone who worked with Dewees, and the stories they tell are of all the ways he exceeded any need.
“I was afraid that when he left I wouldn’t know what to have somebody else do because he just took care of things,” Judge Judith Stewart said.
Even when he went on vacation, Dewees would have all the case files for the time he would be gone lined up before he left, said Lisa Day, who works in the court office.
“I mean, they’re very busy and they didn’t have time for that,” Dewees said.
Even though it was not in his job description, when the first court employees arrived on winter mornings, they would find Dewees cleaning sidewalks and his start time was no different from theirs, said Melissa Stinson, who worked in the county clerk’s office.
“Every job that I’ve had in my entire life, I’ve always gone to work early,” Dewees said. “I just got there, and when I was there, I just done what needed to be done.”
When the women who worked at the court had to stay late, Dewees would stay as well — on his own time.
“It’s just, in order to keep everybody safe, I wanted to be there,” he said.
Dewees was as proactive in the courtroom as out, Stewart said.
“If I was concerned about something that was going on in court — if people were starting to get really emotional — Gary was already on it,” Stewart said. “He had a very calming influence, very, what I would call, ‘calm authority’.”
Magistrate Frank Nardi said Dewees understood how to maintain a careful balance, never overreacting, yet always in control.
It’s rare that someone is happy to be in a courtroom, Nardi said.
“People sometimes come to court and think they can handle it like they see on TV,” Nardi said.
When people start yelling and calling names, the already tense situation can easily get out of hand, he said.
“You don’t want someone who’s going to fly off the handle. You want someone who is going to diffuse the situation, as opposed to making it worse,” Nardi said. “And he had that knack.”
Dewees’ wife, Brenda, said he is a voice of reason. He has always looked for a way to de-escalate situations even as they are developing, whether he was serving as a reserve deputy or raising their children.
“He’s always been very good at assessing situations and then being able to respond appropriately,” she said. “That’s something that he’s just a natural at.”
Dewees also sprung into action when needed, Stinson said, recalling a scuffle in the courthouse stairwell.
Hearing thuds and screaming, Stinson hit the alarm in the clerk’s office and ran out to see what was happening, she said. When she reached the stairs, DeWees was already breaking up a domestic dispute.
“He took his job very seriously, and he worried about everyone in here,” County Clerk Brenda Woods said. “It wasn’t like a job, it was like he was taking care of his own family.”
Dewees does not recall ever being overwhelmed by watching case after case in the courtroom, he said.
“There was a few times that I was a little bit — bothered, by some of the people that would be in there, their sentences and things like that,” he said. “You try to think what else could have been done to have kept them from having to get to this stage in their life.”
Though his coworkers mostly speak about his professional side, Dewees’ “ornery” side inspires chuckles and grins around the county courthouse.
In one incident he did not admit to until his retirement party, Dewees collected up the tiny paper circles from the office hole punches and saved them, he said.
Then, one rainy day, he dumped an entire bag into coworker Debbie Schroeder’s umbrella.
Leaving for lunch, she stepped out the courthouse door, opened her umbrella and was showered in tiny white dots.
“It backfired on him, because he had to pick up all the dots out front,” Schroeder said.
The ribbing went both ways. Schroeder revealed at Dewees’ retirement party that there had never been anything wrong with his office chair. For years, she lowered it every time he left the room, leading him to assume it had a faulty piston.
Several of Dewees’ coworkers recalled how big he would smile when setting a fat stack of files in a newly emptied “in” basket.
Woods laughed as she talked about the way Dewees would stare when he was waiting for someone to finish with a piece of paperwork — or the way he dropped her files in the middle of the floor when she moved her inbox too often.
“There was just a lot of teasing, just, you know, things just to kind of keep the job interesting,” Dewees said. “And sometimes to take your mind off the job.”
At the end, the most rewarding part of the job was the people, Dewees said.
“It’s one of the best jobs I ever had, just because of the people that I was privileged to work with,” he said. “I mean, everybody there is wonderful people.”