Sheriff names Reserve Officer of the Year


In the U.S. Air Force and with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, James Richard “Rick” Hirtzel devoted his life to service.

The Seymour native spent four years in the military after graduating from Seymour High School. Then when he and his wife, Julie, moved back to his hometown, Rick became a reserve officer with the sheriff’s department.

At the time of his death Oct. 12, 2021, Rick had still been serving as a reserve officer and was working at Nippon Steel Pipe America Inc., formerly Seymour Tubing, both for more than 32 years.

Sheriff Rick Meyer recently announced Rick was posthumously named the Jerry Hounshel Reserve Officer of the Year for 2021. Hounshel was sheriff from 1999 to 2006 and now serves as a civilian process server for the sheriff’s department.

Hirtzel was the sixth person to receive the award, which is presented to a reserve officer who goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Julie said she was at the sheriff’s department talking to a Fraternal Order of Police representative one day when Meyer let her know Rick had been chosen for the award.

“I had no idea,” she said. “All of it has been overwhelming, the support from the sheriff’s department. Everyone associated with that has been amazing.”

Rick was diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly after turning 55.

“At first, it wasn’t too bad for about a week and a half,” Julie said. “Then it was like he had been hit by a dump truck, and it just kind of progressed. He was at the local hospital and then they decided we’re going to have to look for a transfer to someone that can do some specifics. Unfortunately, by the time he was airlifted to (an Indianapolis hospital), I think the damage was done.”

Rick and Julie were married for more than 36 years and have two children.

Rick graduated from SHS in 1984 and later that year joined the Air Force. He was stationed at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas.

After leaving the military and returning home, Rick briefly worked at Excel Tool before Seymour Tubing opened its doors and he got a job there. Julie said he did “anything and everything” over the years. Most recently, he worked in the production control department.

“He worked every shift,” she said. “He had been briefly in the accounting department for a while and didn’t care for that. For him, he liked being out on the floor for a little bit. He would come back to his desk and make sure everything was done.”

Once Rick became a reserve officer, Julie said he mainly did that on Saturdays.

“He chose to leave the military, but I think always in the back of his mind was that desire to serve,” she said of why he chose to volunteer his time. “He loved his country. He loved his county. He just wanted to serve and be there. I think for him, the reserve time was just a release. He enjoyed going out and meeting people.”

With Brownstown Speedway races being on Saturday nights, Rick spent a lot of time there to provide security.

“That was just like a thing for him, racing season,” Julie said. “He was there. That was his thing.”

Providing security during the Jackson County Fair on the last week of July each year also was important to Rick.

“That was always a big thing for him, too. He loved the fair. He loved doing his reserve work there. He would do the night shift there,” Julie said. “This past fair week, that whole week, they were struggling to find people to work and it was so taxing on him, but he just felt that he had to do it.”

Rick also was an active participant in the Fraternal Order of Police Donald M. Winn Lodge 108 Cops and Kids program, formerly Shop with a Cop. One day each December, local law enforcement officers are paired with a child and his or her family to shop for things they need and want at Walmart Supercenter in Seymour.

“He loved interacting with the kids,” Julie said. “I think it made him feel good to be a part of something to help kids feel like they were special.”

After Rick’s death, Julie said she was overwhelmed by all of the positive comments about her husband.

“He didn’t want to be noticed. He was just a person that was there,” she said. “I’m sure he was humbled to know that he had touched so many lives, and that was another thing that struck me, as well, is how many lives he had touched. Rick was always kind to everyone. He always treated everyone the same. When he answered his phone and it was one of his friends, it was always, ‘Hey, buddy.’”

Julie hopes Rick’s dedication to serve inspires others.

“When Rick did anything, he was dedicated, he was conscientious. He always worked and strived to do the best that he could possibly do,” she said. “I couldn’t say it enough how much he said he loved Jackson County and serving the people here.”

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