A 1955 Brazil High School graduate has acquired more than a million miles under his safety belt during his lengthy law enforcement career. And he doesn't mind adding a few more miles to that total to come back and visit his beloved hometown.
"It's one of the first things I do when my wife and I come back to Brazil to visit family or friends," Donald Frederick Kirkham recently told The Brazil Times. "Brazil was a great town to grow up in. I love to drive around and take a trip down memory lane to get a look at how everything has changed over the years."
A self-proclaimed country boy, Kirkham grew up on what was once known as Hoosierville Road (County Road 600 North).
"They call it Airport Road now," Kirkham said. "I went to a one-room school house until eighth-grade. There was one teacher, Zona Ona Bell. She was the dearest person. If I have to contribute some of my success to someone other than my parents, it would be to her."
His last four years of education were spent at Brazil High School.
"It was quite an experience to go from a one-room school house to the big city school," Kirkham said. "I was a country boy in the big city, but it wasn't so bad. The big city kids accepted us country boys and made sure we did all right."
After graduation, Kirkham worked at Arketex and Twigg Industry for a few years.
In the spring of 1957, he married his sweetheart, LaVonna Riddell, and started a family.
"My goal was to get paid $100 a week," he said.
Kirkham never considered a career in law enforcement.
"I have always wanted to reach farther in my life, but I never thought about being a police officer until someone mentioned it to me. Then I saw an ad that the Indiana State Police was looking for officers," Kirkham said about applying for the ISP in July 1960. "You didn't have to go to college back then to be a trooper. But I reached my goal, I was going to be paid $415 a month."
At academy, Kirkham realized he needed to learn to speak up and take on leadership roles.
"I was very shy and introverted, real countrified. Now, you can't shut me up. I had to learn to talk to do the job," he said. "I probably wouldn't have tried again if I didn't make it to the ISP academy the first time."
Assigned to the ISP Jasper Post in 1961, the Kirkham family moved away from Brazil. As a trooper, he safely patrolled the roads for 950,000 miles.
"God has been good to me," Kirkham said. "I definitely had a co-pilot protecting me while out on the roads all those years."
Humble, Kirkham believes he's not unique among the thousands of law enforcement officers who have also worked to protect and serve the public during their careers.
After 23 years and a few days, Kirkham retired from ISP with the rank of Sergeant in charge of truck enforcement, but not law enforcement.
"I was Knox County Sheriff for two terms (1987-1995) and Oaktown Town Marshal for nine years," Kirkham said.
One of the hardest changes Kirkham said he experienced during his career was the arrival of drugs, especially methamphetamine, in small towns.
"The year before I left my position as sheriff, we were processing 30-40 prisoners a day in the jail," he said. "It was the same town, same everything. But meth was just beginning to raise its ugly head. In 1996, my successor was averaging 109 prisoners a day. It just breaks your heart to see the affect of meth on people, on families."
Kirkham logged approximately another 600,000 safe-patrol miles as sheriff, and a few more as a town marshal.
"It really allowed me to see both sides of law enforcement and made my career very well rounded," Kirkham said. "I've had a great career, but I'm enjoying retirement. I don't know how I ever got anything done before."
Kirkham is spending more time working around the house and in his yard. He also keeps up with the happenings around Brazil by logging daily onto The Brazil Times website.
"I read the news stories and then check on the obituaries," he said. "I've reached that age where you start losing friends, so I try to keep up on what's happening as often as possible."
Driving back to Brazil is another way to stay in touch.
"It's great to spend more time with our family and friends, especially our three grandchildren, who are spending the summer with us," Kirkham said. "It's always nice to come back home to Brazil. It always has been a great town, and still is."