Montcalm County’s longtime sheriff Bill Barnwell retires

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:52 am on Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Montcalm County Sheriff Bill Barnwell jokingly points to a colleague during Barnwell’s retirement party Thursday as his successor, Undersheriff Mike Williams laughs. Barnwell is retiring after 40 years in law enforcement. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

STANTON — Since 1969, Bill Barnwell has either lived at or worked at the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office.

Barnwell worked for the Sheriff’s Office 40 years, save a three-year stint to serve in the U.S. Navy. His father, Tom Barnwell, was sheriff from 1969 to 1980, followed by Thomas Hebert from 1981 to 1984 and Don Godell from 1985 to 2000. Barnwell worked for all three sheriffs before being elected sheriff himself 16 years ago.

Barnwell was honored with a retirement party Thursday in the basement of the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office, one hour after his successor, Mike Williams, was sworn in as the new sheriff.

“It’s very hard to summarize over 40 years of service,” Barnwell said. “This has been more than just a job for me; it has been a way of life. Saying goodbye is, to say the least, bittersweet.”

A 1972 graduate of Central Montcalm High School, Barnwell began his career with Montcalm County Central Dispatch in 1974, eventually moving to the corrections division. After attending police academy, he was assigned to road patrol, where he worked as a road deputy, sergeant and lieutenant.

Barnwell was undersheriff to Godell, who was elected sheriff in 1985. Barnwell was elected sheriff himself in 2000 and was subsequently re-elected three more times.

Having overseen many challenges and having to make tough decisions over the years, Barnwell remains a well-liked and respected public figure in Montcalm County. He’s known for his ability to recall names, dates and the overall history of the Sheriff’s Office, and for his nostalgia and easy sense of humor.

Montcalm County Jail Corrections Officer Todd Brooks, at right, shares a hug with Sheriff Bill Barnwell during a retirement party Thursday. Brooks is retiring after 30 years, while Barnwell is retiring after 40 in law enforcement.

“I want to thank all of the citizens who supported me as sheriff,” Barnwell said. “A very special thanks to all the members of the Sheriff’s Office who have worked so hard to make this a great department. My hope is the citizens of Montcalm County will continue to support Sheriff Williams and his staff as they carry on a very important and difficult job.”

Williams will now take over sheriff duties after winning a hotly contested primary election this past August and officially being elected in November.

“Personally, I feel very honored to have been able to work with Bill,” Williams said. “He’s modeled what it is to be a good sheriff. I’ve learned so much from him and will continue to use him as a resource.”

Det. Sgt. Tom Goerge said Barnwell is the most dedicated deputy and supervisor he’s ever worked with.

“Going the extra mile to make the Sheriff’s Office and his community a better place is an understatement,” Goerge said. “Sheriff Barnwell was always supportive, but also held others to the high standards he held himself to. I’ve always said that when I retire the others will forget about me in a week or two, which realistically how it goes and it should go. Sheriff Barnwell will not be forgotten about. The knowledge he has about the working of the Sheriff’s Office and the history it contains will definitely be missed.”

Montcalm County Corrections Officer Todd Brooks was also honored Thursday as he is retiring after 30 years on the job. Brooks’ duties included taking care of prisoners, providing court security and conducting prisoner transports.

“Todd provided training and guidance to new employees, was admired by all and was always willing to discuss sports and bow hunting,” a sheriff’s office press release stated. “Todd will be greatly missed and is one of those coworkers who will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace.”

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