County salutes Shag’s service
By Fran Odyniec
Come next Monday morning the Madison County Courthouse will no longer have a swamp.
For the bigger part of the last 39 years, “the swamp” has been an early morning gathering spot in county treasurer Shag Stidham’s office. County commissioners, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, office holders, clerks as well as friends were always welcome. It’s a place where much discussion took place but no decisions were made, at least at that time of day.
From his desk in the corner of “the swamp,” Shag would monitor the proceedings.
“Only thing we didn’t have was a still,” laughed former Madison County Commissioner and Sheriff Herb Markley.
Markley was visiting Stidham in “the swamp” Thursday morning on the eve of Stidham’s retirement after 53 1/2 years of public service to the county. During that time, he has been a sheriff’s deputy and a chief deputy under Markley as well as county treasurer since 1972.
As treasurer, he has handled an average of $75 million a year, and has amassed more than 90,800 votes in 10 elections in which he was opposed but once. That was in 2008 when now county auditor Jennifer Hunter and local attorney Christopher Brown ran against him. In that election, Stidham got 8,784 votes, Hunter, 3,559 and Brown 3,543.
“He has a unique personality and everyone appears to love it,” said Madison County Commissioner David Dhume. “He’s a big-hearted man who can be a little contrary sometime, but ultimately he is a great team player.”
When the commissioners earlier this year eagerly began to explore the possibility of investing county funds in local municipality projects that would guarantee a return on the investments, Stidham furrowed his brow at an investment council meeting and said he wasn’t so sure.
After performing due diligence on the proposal and double checking with the commissioners, he gave his approval to go ahead with the project which has now caught the attention of the County Commissioners’ Association of Ohio as a way to create much needed revenue generators for other counties.
“I’m a conservative kind of guy,” Shag admitted. “I won’t invest in anything that’s on a fly-by-night basis. My belief is that at the end of the month, I want to have what I invested plus interest — not lose it all.”
“It was and is an opportunity to take in a new investment strategy,” said Madison County Commissioner Mark Forrest. “Shag was open to this idea of something new and what would be best for the county.”
“We will be hard-pressed to find another person so devoted to his job and the county,” said Madison County Commissioner Paul Gross. “What Shag did in this building is remarkable.”
Gross seems to know why Shag hasn’t been seen wearing a tie in the courthouse.
“About 30 or 35 years ago, somebody told him that he wasn’t comfortable in his presence when Shag was wearing a tie,” Gross recalled. “He took off the tie and hasn’t worn one since.”
Shag employs a respectful yet professional informality in dealing with people as well as office holders.
For example, it wasn’t unusual for folks who wanted to pay their tax bills to drop off their payments at Shag’s home.
“They couldn’t get in during office hours,” said Shag matter-of-factly about offering a convenience that could only be found at an ATM. “So they’d bring it to our house. We never turned anybody down.”
Another example of Shag assisting an office holder is Sheriff Jim Sabin.
“He helped me in my preparation of my annual budgets,” said Sabin. “We’d set down and go over the figures.”
Deputies in the sheriff’s office also knew whom to turn to if they had a problem balancing he department’s cash books.
“Many times we’d have Shag come over to find that missing penny,” Sabin smiled, “and he would do it. He is one of those people you can go to with a question, and he always had a moment for everyone.”
Sabin pointed out that Shag’s office was the first department in the county to go on computer.
“That was when not everybody had a computer at the start of the computer revolution,” he said. “He adapted, learned and understood computer systems very quickly.”
One aspect of his approach to his job that has always impressed Sabin is Shag’s way of introducing himself.
“‘I am your county treasurer, Shag Stidham,’ is the way he does it,” said Sabin. ” There’s a lot of truth in it. He has never lost sight of who he was and that he was working for the people of Madison County.”
Before coming to work as county treasurer, Shag hired on as a deputy in the sheriff’s office under Sheriff Herb Markley back in 1960.
“I wanted to forget the day when he applied,” said Markley with a huge grin. “He was a wonderful deputy who was thorough and professional. He had a good teacher in Pappy Johnson.”
Shag handled the sheriff’s civil office, which, Markley said was a full-time job in itself.
When Herb Markley left the sheriff’s office for a seat as a county commissioner, Steve Saltsman took over as sheriff. And, Shag, of course, was right there.
“His ability to communicate has always impressed me,” said Saltsman, who today is chairman of the Madison County Republican Party’s Central Committee. “It’s a talent a police officer needs but not too many of us have.
Saltsman said that Shag can effectively communicate with people on all levels including criminals.
“He got some people to confess to crimes they actually committed,” he said. “He treated prisoners well and they had respect for him.”
Well, almost all of the prisoners.
There was the time when Shag was taken hostage partly because he, in a sense, gave a little bit too much respect.
It was back on Feb. 2, 1964 when two young men from Ross County were apprehended after they had robbed Birdie’s Motel on U.S. Route 40 west of Summerford. They were incarcerated in the old jail next to the Madison County Courthouse.
As Shag went into their cell to check on them after they had eaten, one of the two tossed salt into his eyes, took his gun, and a hostage situation ensued with Shag as their ticket out of jail.
“They handcuffed him, took him outside and into a car,” recalled Markley, who was sheriff at the time. “Then the question came up: ‘What are we going to do with him?’ as one of them held the gun to his head.”
“They let Shag go, and handcuffed him to a manure spreader,” Markley said with a laugh.
At least that was one version of what type of implement to which Shag had been handcuffed. The other, which tends more toward the truth, was that the implement was a wheat planter.
“Even though it happens to the best of them,” Markley continued motioning toward Shag during his Thursday morning visit to “the swamp,” “We’re not letting him live it down, even now.”
On a serious note, Markley said that it is important that those affected by events like the jail break learn from them, and take the necessary steps to make sure there is no repeat performance.
“It never happened again,” Markley added.
Saltsman voiced an opinion that seems to be shared by many of the folks with whom Shag worked.
“He was easy to work with,” he said. “He was dedicated to his job, and understood people and how they think. And he got along with judges and attorneys—still does. I’ve never heard anybody speak ill of the man.”
“It’ll be difficult to see Shag’s genial nature leave,” said commissioner Dhume.
“We’ll still see him from time to time,” said Sabin. “There is no doubt that anyone will still be able to call upon Shag and his wisdom. His decades of service to Madison County speaks volumes of his dedication and devotion.”
STIDHAM SEND OFF TODAY
The Madison County Commissioners will hold an outdoor farewell celebration in honor of retiring county treasurer Shag Stidham and his wife, Betty, this afternoon, Sept. 30, from 3-6 p.m. on North Oak Street between High and Fourth streets in London.
Co-workers and the public are invited to the event which will include a pig roast, free food and beverages.
The Posse Band will provide music.
In the event of rain, the celebration will be held in the Madison County Courthouse.