By DL PERRIN
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Otis Winslette has become a well-known figure in law enforcement over the 18 years he’s made LaGrange County his home.
He worked 12 years at the county jail; four years on the Topeka police force; five years with the Topeka Fire Department; and he is approaching 11 years on the Shipshewana police department.
But all that will stop now as he has a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer with added complications.
His only daughter, Kara Garrett has this to say about her dad, “He’s played many roles in my life. He has been my leader, provider, protector, coach, father and friend.”
Kara said he showed her the value of hard work and doing right by people.
“He taught me to respect, to love, to cherish the little things in life,” she added.
Also, he always has been there to lend a helping hand. He enjoys mentoring new officers. He teaches them the “old-school” way.
Otis adores his grandchildren, her son Miles and daughter Makayla and her brother’s daughter, Vivian.
Otis’only son, David Winslette, is a fourth-generation police officer.
“Dad has always been our Superman,” David said by phone from North Charleston, S.C. “My mom and dad were always on the same page. I never once heard them raise their voices to one another. I’d asked mom for permission, she would inevitably ask me, ‘What did your father say?’ and vice versa. I remember him always being there at our events, as a coach or just cheering. He loved his motorcycles and four-wheelers.
“I can remember him dragging our mom behind a four-wheeler through the snow on a sled. She couldn’t say anything because she had so much snow blowing into her face. So Kara and I kept yelling ‘Faster Dad! Faster!’ I still laugh about that.
“My 2-year old daughter Vivian just adores her “Pop-Pop.” We will be up there in March to visit. We love him very much.”
Kay has been married to Otis for 36 years.
“Of course it is hard to put into words,” she said. “He is a wonderful husband, a good father and an adoring grandfather to his three grandchildren. We have our fun when we go riding on our Harley Davidson. We have friends in Ohio and it is our favorite ride. I am so comfortable with him driving I actually take naps while riding behind him.”
Kay said they get along because they are both independent and opinionated.
“A good marriage is give and take,” she said. “You can’t always get your own way and you can’t always give in. Couples today should learn that and not give up so easily.”
Someone who really knows quite a bit about what makes Otis tick would be his lifetime buddy Kent Lawrence, chief of police for Eatonton, Ga.
He spoke by phone last week. “Why, ol’ Otis and I grew up together,” he said. “Otis, me and our good friend JW Hobbs used to have quite a time of it when we were young men. We rode bikes, then motorcycles and 4-wheelers. The three of us hunted, fished, camped and rode for many, many years.
“He taught me all I know about law enforcement. He went into the force five years before I did.”
“We lost JW in a motorcycle accident a while back, so now there is just me and Otis. Otis is the brother I never had. We were very close growing up. I was real sorry to hear about Otis’ diagnosis. It is the price we pay as we get older, I guess. When I heard about him I got the word out to the local churches to add Otis to their prayer chains. He knows I am praying for him and I am sure he is praying for me. I’ve just gone through my fifth back surgery and I am really tired of doctors, I’ll tell you what.”
The Winslette family moved from Georgia to Topeka in 1995. “When he first moved next door, I could not understand a single word he spoke,” said Otis’ long-time Topeka neighbor, Cindy Rasler. “He is such a nice person. He will do anything for you. He has every tool known to man and he helps people all the time. He and Kay are perfect neighbors. They are in my prayers.”
LaGrange County Sheriff Terry Martin has known Otis for many years. He said first and foremost, “Otis is a very nice person. I would trust him with my life. He is dedicated, hard -working and loved his job. He has a good heart. If you need help Otis will be there to help. He is leaving a void in this department that will be hard to fill. You don’t find someone of his caliber very often. When I think of Otis I think back to when you could tell someone something and shake on it. That was all you needed because you knew he would honor that hand shake.”
Tom Fitch is Shipshewana’s Town Marshal. “I have known Otis for 12 years and find him to be one of the most reliable men I have ever known. With his southern drawl and laid back approach to law enforcement he is memorable to both citizens and fellow officers. He is very resourceful. He is always collecting items others throw out and has made things for our department out of those discarded items. Otis is reliable. Whenever our department had a job no one else wanted, I could count on Otis to step up. All of his fellow officers look up to him with respect and admiration. I do not look at Otis from a supervisor viewpoint, but rather as a friend. Over the years I have asked Otis for advice on many things outside of law enforcement. He has been a great inspiration and role model.
Shortly after his sixtieth birthday last year, Kara said her dad began complaining of back pain. Soon his legs were numb and he had trouble walking. “In October a biopsy showed he had stage 4 lung cancer which had spread to his lymph nodes and brain.” The tumor in the lung caused Eaton Lambert Syndrome which damages the nerves resulting in muscle weakness. He had to retire. He has applied for disability and the chemo has been working to some extent but it has not stopped the cancer from spreading. At this point there is one more treatment scheduled. After this treatment, there will be testing done to see if the cancer is still spreading and growing, if so, the treatments will probably be discontinued.
On March 2, 2013 there will be a hog roast and silent auction put on by the LaGrange County Sheriff. The fundraiser will be held from 4 to 8 pm at the Topeka Fire Department. All proceeds will go to defray the Winslette family’s mounting medical expenses.