Stanley Fenton will turn 88 years old next month and though it's been decades since he retired from the Palmetto Police Department, he remembers fondly, and with emotion, his public service to a community he came to love.
But an important part of his journey was stolen from him a few months ago when he was in a retirement home in Sun City.
The police captain's badge he carried for many years serving, as well as his retirement plaque, went missing. Fenton became emotional as he said, "I thought I'd never see it again. When I moved into the place in Sun City, I had some stuff go into storage. It didn't get left there I know. I would have never left it there."
Fenton said he asked everyone if they had seen it, but no one had. "What could I do?" he asked.
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Sometimes it's not what you can do, but what other people can do for you and that's how Fenton would come to see his badge again.
Palmetto Assistant City Clerk Amber LaRowe is the plan administrator for the city's police pension board and her husband, Detective Sgt. Ryan LaRowe, is a trustee on the board. Every two years the city confirms with retirees their eligibility to ensure pension payments are continued.
There were a few former officers the city could not locate so Ryan LaRowe took it upon himself to track them down.
After using some of his police skills, he found Fenton at the Summerfield Assisted Living Facility in Bradenton.
"We just got to talking and he told me what happened with his badge and some other items that came up missing," Ryan LaRowe said. "For someone in public service and law enforcement, that badge means a lot to them. It's a token of their service. In private industry, it's a gold watch or something like that, but in law enforcement, it's your badge of honor."
LaRowe asked for a description of the badge since designs change over the years and went online to design an exact replica. He took the design to Force Products in Bradenton, a company that specializes in law enforcement equipment, owned by Pam and Ryan Vaughn. Ryan Vaughn is a Bradenton police officer.
When Vaughn found out what LaRowe was doing, he waived any charges
"They covered the cost, which I was going to pay," LaRowe said. "They just told me to relay their thanks for his service."
In front of Summerfield staff and Fenton's new friends, LaRowe presented him with his retirement badge this week.
"I made him a promise," LaRowe said.
Fenton's eyes teared. Though he's done other things in life, including being named deacon emeritus at the First Baptist Church of Parrish, it's his time as a police officer that he recalls like it was yesterday.
"I always wanted to be a police officer," he said. "It goes back many years when I lived in New York state. I was a little boy, around four or five, and I got lost. My mom and dad always told me to respect police officers because they respect you. So when I got lost, I went to the police department and they helped me find my mom and dad. I've wanted to be a police officer ever since."
Later in life, Fenton moved to Palmetto and though busy with other ventures, spent three years of his life riding with officers at night, mostly with then Chief Al Redmond.
"I figured Chief Redmond as my father more than my own," Fenton said. "My father died before I was a police officer so he never knew. I rode with Chief Redmond for three years and he finally said if I was going to ride with him, why don't I put in an application. I acted like an officer anyway, so I put in the application and he said, 'You're hired.'"
Detective Sgt. LaRowe was hesitant for any media attention, but agreed to highlight Fenton's service.
"I was doing this under the radar," he said. "I didn't want to be in the spotlight for anything. This was just an act of kindness to someone who served their time as a police officer. I just thought it was meaningful."
Only two other people knew what LaRowe was doing. His captain and his proud wife. Amber LaRowe wasted little time spilling the beans on social media.
"This is an example of a police officer, a person, a city employee taking the time to get to know someone while doing their job," she posted to Facebook. "In the course of conversation, Ryan determined that he could help someone who deserved it and so he did it out of his own heart and time. ... My husband is going to be embarrassed by that I'm mentioning this, but I am just so full of love and joy in my heart, I needed to share it."
Fenton, too was overjoyed to receive the badge, which he proudly carried in front shirt pocket as he pushed his roller down the hallways of Summerfield. He also was feeling a bit of love in his life.
"I have a girlfriend," he said with a smile. "We are getting together tomorrow to spend the day together. We are even talking about getting married. She's 23. Do you believe that?"
When everyone said no, they did not, Fenton let out a hearty laugh.
"OK, she's 83 and life is good."