If Thursday morning’s Optimist Club meeting at Something’s Perkin’ proved one thing, it’s that retired Circuit Court Judge John Westhafer still has his sense of humor after 36 years on the bench.
In a style perhaps befitting a celebrity roast, friends and colleagues took gentle jabs at the judge, recalling memories and anecdotes following Westhafer’s acceptance of the Greensburg Optimist Club’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award.
The only two-time recipient of the award since its inception in 1985, Westhafer was honored by Decatur County Prosecutor Jim Rosenberry, Greensburg Police Detective Bill Meyerrose, retired Prosecutor William O. Smith, Sheriff Greg Allen, and friend and classmate Bill Wenning in short speeches Thursday morning.
And he was also humbled.
“I appreciate the award and I appreciate what the Optimist Club does for the community,” said the retired judge. A man of few words Thursday morning, Westhafer, who still fills in for new Circuit Court Judge Tim Day and Superior Court Judge Matthew Bailey when either isn’t available, let his friends do most of the talking.
Rosenberry recapped a career in public service that began in the ‘60s and continued until the calendar turned to the year 2013. A former lawyer, deputy prosecutor, city attorney and acting mayor, John Westhafer defeated Circuit Court Judge John Goddard — a task some thought impossible — and heard the first of thousands of cases in 1976.
Throughout those three and a half decades, Westhafer presided over cases involving essentially everything from divorce to paternity suits, Rosenberry said, adding that the community has been appreciative of the retired judge’s decades in public service and that it was “a privilege” for the present prosecutor to practice in front of him.
Many of those thousands of cases mentioned by Rosenberry were argued by Bill Smith, who later stated Westhafer was “very fair-minded” and that he carried out his duties with “great dignity.” Smith also mentioned the immense strain such a career can have on one’s family, noting that the position of judge is one that requires an around-the-clock commitment.
“Anything can happen,” said the former prosecutor in regards to the demands of the position.
Seeing much in that vein, Smith praised Westhafer’s efforts and accessibility throughout his career.
“You did a hell of a job, and you did it with great honor and great dignity. I was very proud to be there.”
Echoing Smith’s comments regarding the retired judge’s accessibility, Det. Meyerrose recalled a humorous story and remembered talking sports with the judge while waiting to secure search warrants and the like. The veteran detective said of Westhafer, “It’s been a pleasure to serve with him.”
Sheriff Allen became a police officer in 1981, five years into Westhafer’s tenure on the Circuit Court bench, and stated, “He (Westhafer) was the only judge I’d ever known.”
He continued, “It takes a special person to sit in that position and listen to case after case. I have the utmost respect for him. We always knew he was pro-law enforcement, and we thank him for his service.”
Classmate Bill Wenning took time to mention the judge’s proficient golf game — which includes a hole-in-one — before joking Westhafer should take over the reins of television judge Joe Brown’s recently-canceled syndicated program.
After a gentle ribbing, Wenning offered congratulations to his friend.
Optimist Club President Jacque Richey told fellow club members and their distinguished guests that honoring Westhafer and others with the Law Enforcement of the Year award has been “a pleasure.” “We’ve recognized 29 (winners) over the years,” said Richey. “We’re rather proud of that and we hope to continue to do it.”
Westhafer previously won the award in 2001. Attendees Fred Huser (1998), Bill Meyerrose (2002), Greg Allen (2006), Bill Smith (2010) and Greensburg Chief of Police Stacey Chasteen (2012) were all previous recipients of the award.
Contact: Brent Brown 812-663-3111 x7056