Former chief left ‘strong legacy’ in Whitewater

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Kayla Bunge
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
— Donald Simon did things his way. And it usually was the right way.

Among police officers, the former Whitewater police chief had a reputation for being tough. But among friends, he is remembered for being firm but fair—a man who led his department with a sense of purpose.

“He was a great leader,” said Walworth County Sheriff David Graves, who started his law enforcement career in Whitewater under Simon. “He would set the goals … and he would lead you there. … If you followed him and did what he asked you to do, you got along fine; if you didn’t …”

Simon died Jan. 3. He was 82.

Simon had a long career in law enforcement, serving for more than 35 years in Rock and Walworth counties.

He started as a seasonal game warden with the state Department of Natural Resources in 1948. He joined the Rock County Sheriff’s Office in 1951 and was promoted through the ranks from deputy officer to identification officer to detective sergeant.

Simon was appointed special agent in the state Division of Criminal Investigation in 1964. He advanced to chief special agent in 1966 and was named director of the intelligence bureau in 1967.

He was appointed acting administrator of the division in 1968 and was named chief of the newly created Crime Intelligence Information Center in 1969.

Simon became chief of police in Whitewater in 1970 and served until he retired in 1983.

He led the department through some turbulent times, said Chief Jim Coan.

“There was a great deal of social unrest in the country and student unrest on the UW-Whitewater campus (with regard to the Vietnam War),” he said. “He really brought a sense of discipline and professionalism to the department when it was so needed.”

Police at the time had to walk a thin line between protecting the community and allowing people to exercise their rights to assembly and free speech, Coan said.

“That’s a big part of his legacy to our department,” he said. “He left us a better department and better community.”

Simon might have been stern but he also was supportive.

He took a risk in hiring a 19-year-old as the department police aide in 1972—and perhaps took an ever bigger risk in promoting a 20-year-old to patrolman in 1973, Graves said.

“He gave me a uniform. He gave me a badge. And he gave me a gun,” he said. “He said he had faith in me.

“I don’t think anyone had ever inspired me and scared me so much at the same time. But there was only one thing I could do and that was not to let him down.”

Graves recalls the day Simon went from being just his boss to his mentor and friend.

In February 1976, Graves and Simon were standing in the hall talking about a case. An officer interrupted their conversation to tell Graves that an ambulance had been dispatched to his parents’ house. Simon rushed Graves into a squad car and drove him the seven miles out of town.

“He said, ‘Listen, if we get there and (your father) is not breathing, you know what we have to do,’” Graves said. “And I said, ‘Yes. We have to do CPR.’”

Simon and Graves arrived to find the man, who suffered from heart problems, not breathing. They worked together to revive him, but they were unsuccessful.

“We lost my dad that day,” Graves said. “But I gained great admiration for the chief that day, too. He became my mentor, my adviser and my hero.”

Simon stayed in touch with Graves even after he left the Whitewater Police Department in 1976 and as he worked his way through the ranks of the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office. Graves still thinks fondly of the time they spent together and the advice he gleaned from the veteran cop.

“He always said there’s no easy way to do it, but you have to do what you think is right, do what is right and work hard to get there,” he said.

Simon was preceded in death by his wife, Joyce. He is survived by his son Mark, daughter-in-law Merrellee, and grandsons Marcus and Kyle, all of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Services were held Saturday in Whitewater. The Whitewater Police Department, Walworth County Sheriff’s Office and Rock County Sheriff’s Office honor guards participated in the ceremony, and a Janesville police officer played “Taps.”

“He left a strong and honorable legacy,” Graves said. “I don’t think that he’ll ever truly leave my mind.”

Last updated: 12:41 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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