Gangwer remembered as tough, compassionate sheriff

FREMONT Sheriff David Gangwer was the type of man who let kindergartners try on his hat when he visited their classro
Sarah Weber
May 24, 2010

 

FREMONT

Sheriff David Gangwer was the type of man who let kindergartners try on his hat when he visited their classroom.

He'd share his expertise with state lawmakers to help them shape gun control and drunken-driving laws.

He'd pull a young deputy or lawyer aside and share the wisdom he'd gained over the course of his 42-year career.

As Sandusky County's sheriff since 1985, Gangwer touched thousands of lives in the community.

And in the wake of his unexpected death Sunday, friends and colleagues were still trying to cope with his absence Tuesday.

Chief Deputy Bruce N. Hirt was sworn in as the interim sheriff at a quiet ceremony in the Sandusky County Commissioner's chambers Tuesday morning while the flag hung at half-mast outside.

Hirt had trouble finding the words to describe how he felt taking on leadership of the department so soon after his friend and colleague's death.

"Everyone is very sad, and you can see it," said Hirt, his face heavy with emotion. "Everyone is pulling together."

Hirt said everyone at the department is working hard to make sure Gangwer receives a funeral befitting his service on Friday. Gangwer will be buried with a full sheriff's honor guard and flag detail at Oakwood Cemetery in Fremont, following a 10 a.m. service at Grace Lutheran Church, 705 W. State St.

"We're just trying to get through the loss here," he said.

Sadness over the sheriff's death stretched through county offices in Fremont as officials remembered their colleague.

"I'm sure he could have gotten elected for the next 100 years," county prosecutor Thomas Stierwalt said.

Stierwalt often worked with Gangwer and said he was always impressed by the sheriff's humility and sense of humor. He said he was once at a seminar with Gangwer and a detective from the sheriff's department when Gangwer's colleague played a joke on him.

Stierwalt said the detective called Gangwer's cell phone, which Gangwer tried to answer quietly. Thinking it was a real call from the department, Gangwer shushed the detective when he tried to tell Gangwer it was a gag.

Stierwalt said Gangwer laughed when he got the joke.

"A man with a big ego wouldn't be able to laugh at himself like that," Stierwalt said.

Judge Harry A. Sargeant Jr., who worked with Gangwer for decades, said the sheriff spent a lot of time in the community, especially at the Sandusky County Fair.

"He always seemed to be looking out for the best interests of his employees and citizens of the county," Sargeant said. "I will certainly miss him."

Former state representative Rex Damschroder of Fremont said Gangwer was always eager to help him during his tenure in the state legislature from 1994-2002.

Damschroder was chairman of the pubic safety committee, and he said Gangwer provided vital insight into issues such as drunk driving and gun control.

"He looked like a sheriff, he sounded like a sheriff, and he carried himself so well, people really listened to him," Damschroder said. "He would go out of his way to make sure I had the right answers."

Damschroder said his wife teaches kindergarten and enjoyed visits from Gangwer in which he would let the children try on his hat.

"There was a reason why he was running unopposed," Damschroder said. "He was very well respected."

Maureen Pump, unofficial chaplain of the Sandusky County Sheriff's Department and lay minister officiating Gangwer's funeral, said the sheriff was a man of faith and a regular at Grace Lutheran Church.

She said Gangwer was the type of man who didn't talk much about his faith but lived it instead.

"The inmates at the jail, even though they were there because they had broken the law, he knew they were all God's children, and he treated them with respect," she said.