Chief Kenneth A. Francis, former director of the department, died Friday at age 66 surrounded by his wife, Patty Francis, and other loved ones, according city officials of Gardner, Kan.
Department director Drew Juden said Francis was not just a former director, he was hired by the city to be Sikeston's very first Department of Public Safety director. Until Francis was hired, Sikeston's police and fire department's were separate entities.
In 1978, not long after taking the position, Francis began building up the department by hiring 10 new recruits -- several of whom are now familiar names in the community.
"He hired me, Drew and [former department captain Dan] Armor," said Capt. Mark Crocker. "He was probably the best thing that ever happened to Sikeston DPS."
"They actually hired him in '77, about a year before we came on," Crocker recalled. "I think he was here for about two years with us before he left."
At age 30, "he was young for a chief," Juden said.
A Friday news release from the city of Gardner included a statement by Francis saying the inspiration for a career in law enforcement came to him as "a young boy" not far from his family's business in his birthplace and home, St. Joseph, Mo.: "The police used to run speed checks down the street from the grocery store. I used to go down there and just sit and talk to them."
After graduating from high school, Francis pursued that passion for law enforcement by serving as an air policeman during his service in the Missouri Air National Guard.
He returned to St. Joseph after his service in the Guard and worked as an electric lineman before being hired as a policeman for Gladstone, Mo.
At 27, he became the first police chief for Weston, Mo.
His law enforcement career next took him to Trenton, Mo., before he was hired by Sikeston.
"He went from here back to Gladstone and then went from Gladstone to Gardner and that's where he's been since," Juden said.
Francis led the Gladstone Department of Public Safety for five years before accepting the position as Gardner's police chief, a position he held for nearly 25 years.
According to the release, "Chief Francis was dedicated to the community of Gardner and tried to instill in his officers a ‘Sheriff Andy Taylor' approach to law enforcement, often telling his recruits, ‘We're still Andy and Mayberry. We may be 30 officers, but that's how I want you to act.'"
Those who knew Francis during his time in Sikeston agreed he practiced what he preached.
"He spent a lot of time out in the community," Juden said.
Juden recalled that at the time there was a cafe near city hall.
"He walked down there every morning to have coffee and just to check out what was going on in town, to hear what was making the coffee circuit," he said.
Crocker recalled Francis also held meetings regularly at the restaurant at the Holiday Inn.
"A couple of the detectives would meet out there and that was their way of taking the pulse of the community," he said. "He maintained contacts in the public to see how his department was doing with the community."
That leadership style made a lasting impression on what eventually became the department's administrative staff.
"I think his interaction within the community probably helped us become a little more active in those roles," Crocker said. "That's how we've always tried to lead our people: being active in the community. He encouraged that attribute in his officers as they went out and did their jobs."
Francis also passed on another key attribute:
"He believed in leadership by example -- he was out in the [patrol] car every Friday and Saturday night working alongside the officers," Juden said.
"Much like the chief does today," Crocker said.
Visitation for Francis is scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the College Church of the Nazarene in Olathe, Kan., where services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday.
Burial will be in the Gardner Cemetery in Gardner. Arrangements are with the Bruce Funeral Home of Gardner.
"It's a shame that he passed away when he did because one of the things I was going to do was convince him to come down for the grand opening of this building," Juden said. "I had continued to stay in touch with him over the years."