01/09/13 — Veteran lawman honored for 45 years on the job

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Veteran lawman honored for 45 years on the job

By John Joyce
Published in News on January 9, 2013 1:46 PM

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Retired sheriff's office captain Ken Pennington, left, is congratulated by Judge Arnold Jones as Sheriff Carey Winders, right, looks on.

Wayne County Sheriff's Office Capt. Ken Pennington has seen a great deal in his 45 years of service to the community of Wayne County.

He has worked for three sheriffs and can remember a time when there were a total of just eight deputies and only two cars on the road.

He was shot in the leg in the line of duty, along with another deputy in 1974, just 10 days after being married.

He has his badge tattooed on his chest -- literally.

Pennington, a bailiff in the Wayne County Court System for the past 10 years, was honored for his 45 years of dedicated service in a surprise ceremony Tuesday in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones.

Jones and Sheriff Carey Winders presented Pennington with a gold watch and spoke glowingly about the man in front of his wife of 38 years, Nina, his sister Kathy, and his daughter, Wendy Thomas.

The courtroom -- filled with lawyers, law enforcement officials, courtroom personnel and even defendants -- erupted into applause at the conclusion of the impromptu award ceremony.

Pennington spoke afterward about his long-tenured career in public service.

"It was a different time when I started. Drugs weren't really an issue like they are now," he said.

He recalled that when he joined the Sheriff's Office there wasn't even a training program.

"You walked up, you were sworn in and were given a badge and a gun. Another guy with a year in would train you," Pennington said.

And there was no back up in those days, he said. If the call was in Mount Olive and you were in Eureka, well, they were just ... out of luck," he said.

Things have changed too, since he was shot in 1974 while picking up a mental patient with his partner Leroy Locklear. Back then, he said, deputies were paid just $400 a month.

"But back then you could rent a house for $65 a month," he said, the same amount of money he got from workman's compensation after being wounded.

Mrs. Pennington too has seen a lot of interesting things in her 38 years with Tuesday's honoree. Not the least of which was the time the couple discovered a dead body while on a bike ride just a mile from their home.

She said that Pennington and Locklear got into all sorts of things together while on the job, then of course, there is the tattoo he got a few years ago.

Pennington said that he didn't have a particular moment he was most proud of. He became the county diver in 1974 and remembers pulling safes and bodies out of the water, even retrieving News-Argus newspaper boxes.

"They've been throwing them in the water that long,' he chided.

He did add though that something he often thought of was what his mother said to him when he returned from Vietnam after serving a tour while in the Air Force. He bounced around between jobs for a while before settling on law enforcement.

The veteran law man grinned and said, "my mother wondered if I would ever stay on somewhere."