Whenever people needed “a little boost,” Melissa Fortenberry said her dad was there.
Randy Swatek, a corrections officer at the Walworth County Jail for more than 32 years, was proud of his work and always willing to go in early or stay late, his daughter said.
“My dad was always the person to lend a hand and help out even when people were afraid to ask for it,” Melissa said. “Just an all-around really genuine person that was really hard to lose.”
Randy died unexpectedly from a blood clot in his lung on Jan. 28—his daughter’s birthday. He was 58.
Last May, the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office named Randy the 2017 Correctional Officer of the Year.
Randy was born in Elkhorn in 1960 and worked at the jail until his death.
He graduated from Elkhorn Area High School in 1979 and studied political science at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, according to his obituary.
Randy was working security at a hotel when a friend recommended getting a job at the jail. He started in July 1986 and never left, according to the sheriff’s office’s annual report.
In a statement, Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknell praised Randy’s attitude, sense of humor, willingness to cooperate and professionalism.
“It is never easy to say goodbye to someone who means so much to so many,” Picknell said. “We lost a beloved friend, colleague and public servant.”
Two of Randy’s kids, Melissa and son Ben Swatek, said their father didn’t talk much about his work with his children as they grew up in the village of Walworth. Melissa and Ben both live in Texas now.
Ben didn’t understand all the parenting decisions his father made at the time, such as curfew limits. But he has grown to appreciate how “extraordinarily responsible” his father was.
Melissa said her father was there for every game, concert, award ceremony, graduation and other major life events.
“I just hope one day my kids look back and feel the same way about me,” she said.
Randy, his family said, was deeply involved with the organization Pets for Vets, a group that connects veterans with pets in need. His obituary asked for memorials in his name to the sheriff’s office’s police dog unit.
Ben, 31, served in the Marine Corps from 2009 to 2017. He said his dad flew out to see him as often as he could and would drop everything to come if needed.
Bob Swatek, who lives in Elkhorn, said his brother was a hard worker who saw the good in everyone. Randy was “somebody you’d definitely want as a neighbor,” he said.
After Randy’s death, Bob said other people contacted him through social media and praised his brother’s work as a corrections officer. One woman said Randy always took time to check in on her brother, who was frequently in jail and struggled with mental illness, Bob said.
In more than 32 years on the job, Randy had a lot to reflect on.
Last summer, he told The Gazette how meaningful it was when former inmates saw him on the street and thanked him.
“I think those are probably, for me, the more memorable things,” he said.
Picknell thanked Randy for “making a difference.”
“His presence, even in spirit, will leave a well-deserved legacy,” the sheriff said. “We will miss you, and we will not forget.”
Every day, Melissa honors her father’s legacy by trying to do one or two good things that will put a smile on someone’s face.
“I try every day to be more like him,” she said.