WOODSTOCK – After 20 years with the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, newly retired corrections officer Robert Gearhart will spend his days tending to his coin collection rather than the inmates at the county jail.
Gearhart, 65, celebrated his retirement early this month, after undergoing back surgery for scoliosis in October, he said. Throughout the years, the corrections officer has shared laughs with his colleagues and put himself in harm’s way for the safety of others, but he’d jump at the opportunity to do it all over again.
“Definitely,” he said. “I love the job.”
Looking back on nearly 22 years of law enforcement, Gearhart reminisces fondly on volunteering at charity events and riding in the back of a pickup trucks with Zacatecas officers during a police exchange program in Mexico.
But one of Gearhart’s most memorable shifts happened right where the officer spent most of his days, in the McHenry County Jail.
He was working a night shift when a nurse came to administer an insulin shot to an inmate with special psychiatric needs, Gearhart said.
“He goes to kick her so I stopped him from kicking her,” Gearhart said. “And he swings around to strike her and I pulled him away – and then he swings around and poked me in the eye.”
The struggle went on for some time, and Gearhart came out with a scratched cornea.
“Nothing happened to the nurse,” he said. “She didn’t get a scratch or anything.”
Although that night stands out to Gearhart, most days at the jail were quiet, he said.
In some ways, the job wasn’t much different than his earlier work in restaurant management, he said.
“When you’re doing care and custody of inmates, it’s kind of the service industry also,” Gearhart said. “You’re still taking care of their needs – it’s still a service industry, only it’s a little different.”
Retirement has offered Gearhart more time to care for the people closest to him. He plans to spend his days with his wife of 44 years, Candyce Gearhart, and his three grandchildren. He’ll also devote more time to hobbies such as collecting knives, silver and guns, and watching Ultimate Fighting Championship matches.
“I’ve been going to physical therapy right now three days a week. Once I’m done with that I’ll be doing a regular workout routine,” he said.
Until then, Gearhart hopes to pass along a few small pieces of advice to incoming officers.
“I would say, do all the training that they can do. That’s very important. Treat inmates fairly. Don’t judge them. That’s not your place,” he said. “Treat them the way you want to be treated. That’s what you need to do.”