Given his nearly three decades of service in Newton and Harvey County, there likely aren't too many people who are unfamiliar with Sheriff T. Walton.
That's no accident, as Walton admitted he loves meeting people and has been very open with the community since beginning his career in law enforcement. Recently, that love was reciprocated back as Kansan readers voted Walton the Person of the Year in the annual Best of the Best of Harvey County.
Accolades continue to pour in for the nearly-retired sheriff, and while there have been numerous accomplishments throughout his body of work as sheriff and with the Newton Police Department, the recognition also comes on the heels of Walton's role in helping respond to the Excel shooting that occurred in February.
Walton admitted he tried to be a "face of calmness in a sea of confusion" for the citizens of Harvey County. Selecting that "face," in retrospect, was an easy decision for fellow members of the incident command structure in the wake of that tragedy.
"He was representing Harvey County to the nation and the world and I believe that he conveyed the perfect authority and confidence and empathy that our community needed," said Newton public information officer Erin McDaniel.
Outside of the issues Walton has had to address this year, county commissioner Chip Westfall suggested the benchmark of his service will be the part he played in helping establish Heart-To-Heart Child Advocacy Center.
During his time serving as a detective with the NPD, Walton was put in charge of all the child abuse cases. Having to talk to children about such a difficult topic in an environment like a police station, Walton believed there had to be a better way and was spurred to help organize Heart-To-Heart after one particularly difficult case in which one child was interviewed 13 times about the abuse.
"You couldn't even count the number of child victims and their families that this man has gone to great lengths to do things for and to see that their violators were put behind bars," said Chief Sheriff's Deputy Mark Hardtarfer. "He's just one of the hardest working, most caring individuals I've ever met in my life; a true leader in every sense of the word. He will be irreplaceable in the world of law enforcement."
County attorney David Yoder noted it's hard to recall all the things Walton has done for the community, and he has been witness to most of them as he started practicing law in Newton around the same time Walton joined the NPD.
What sticks out through all he has done though, according to Yoder, is his integrity and dedication to the community.
"He's always had the best interests of the community in mind in everything he's done in every capacity. I don't know what else I could say about the man," Yoder said. "He's the shining example of law enforcement."
"I think he's done wonders, great things on behalf of the sheriff's department, on behalf of Harvey County and the community at-large," said Harvey County emergency management director Gary Denny.
Denny noted the hands-on approach Walton took to leadership and his investment in the community stand out through Walton's years of service. Executive Director of Heart-To-Heart Kerry Grosch echoed those sentiments.
Grosch noted Walton is the "go-to guy" and has a "heart of gold" when it comes to advocating for the child victims the center helps out. While she saw the writing on the wall regarding Walton's retirement upon the news that he and his wife, Karen, would soon be welcoming their first grandchild, that has not made it any easier to accept.
"This is something that I've been struggling to see happen because I enjoy him so much. I respect him tremendously," Grosch said. "He's just a fantastic person as well as Sheriff, and so is his wife, and I'm genuinely going to miss them terribly."
For those individuals Walton worked with, they noted his humor, down-to-earth nature and friendship will be missed, but his legacy will live on, and in Walton's mind that legacy is pretty simple.
"When I did interviews for potential police officers, as corny as this sounds, when I'd ask them why do you want to be a police officer I had to hear, 'because I want to help people,'" Walton said. "That's so corny, but that's what it's about. I wanted to help people, so I did. I tried for 28 years to help people."