A fitting tribute to two men who were very dedicated to Franklin County.
That’s how Sheriff Gary Toelke summarized the dedication of his department’s training facility and firing range to Maj. Mike Copeland and Capt. Steve Elliott, who both recently died from cancer.
Copeland served a the department’s Chief Deputy and Eliott commanded the SWAT team.
“You really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” Toelke said. “That old saying couldn’t be truer, and we’ve definitely found that out this past year.”
Toelke made the remarks at the county commission meeting Tuesday in front of several members from the deputies’ families who were in attendance.
“With the entrance of a new regime and a new era in the department, we want to emphasize the great things they’ve done and make sure their names are never forgotten,” Toelke said. “Twenty years from now I hope people see their names on these facilities and ask who they were and what they did.”
Toelke added there was no better way to honor Elliott and Copeland than to forever associate them with the training areas they played such large roles in over the past couple decades.
“Our department was devastated by the loss of these two men,” Toelke said. “They gave a combined 77 years of service to Franklin County.”
Toelke read and presented a resolution signed by the county commissioners officially naming the firing range after Copeland, since he was a firearms instructor.
What was formerly referred to as the Butler building will now be named after Elliott, because of his emphasis on physical fitness and hand-to-hand combat.
Copies of the resolutions were given to the widows of both men, who were very emotional.
“This is very special to me and my children,” Lora Copeland said. “Mike helped build the shooting range years ago and he was very particular about it. He had 45 years on the department and would have trained every officer that came through in the last 20 years.”
Barb Elliott, who was joined at the meeting by her daughters and three of her husband’s siblings, was very touched by the honor bestowed on her family.
“This is exactly what you want,” she said. “You always want them to be remembered and you can see that in all of the guys he trained. Because of Steve, they know what to do and how to do it. He gave a lot to the county and this meant a lot to him.”
In addition to the resolutions, memorials are being placed at the newly named facilities and Sheriff Toelke has a personal hand in both.
A shadow box, made by Toelke, containing one of Elliott’s uniform shirts, a badge, photos and other memorabilia has already been placed in the fitness room used by deputies on a daily basis.
A special memorial that will include a bust of Copeland will be placed at the firing range after it is completed and, like the shadow box, Toelke said he will personally be installing it.