In Chaffee, a love affair and a separation

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

The city of Chaffee and Don Cobb had a relationship most married couples only dream about. It was loving. It was supportive. It was generous. But, as in some marriages, one party outgrows another. And, in this case, it was Cobb who did the leaving.

The relationship began with his birth in a Chaffee medical clinic. It continued with his time as a Red Devil in the Chaffee schools.

Later, he became a policeman and worked in Sikeston, Mo., for awhile, but he went back to his beloved Chaffee to become an officer for going on five years and police chief for nearly two of those.

One gets the impression that he was Chaffee's version of Andy Griffith, a hometown boy who knew everyone in the diner at lunchtime and gave a heartfelt "Howdy!" to people on the street. But everyone knew Sheriff Andy could get tough if he needed to.

So in August, when Cobb was called up for National Guard duty in Kosovo, there was little hesitation when the Chaffee City Council decided to keep paying his $30,000 salary.

Bear in mind that, as a specialist in the National Guard, he already drew a salary somewhere in the mid-$20,000 range. And employers are not committed to paying a single dime to employees who are called up for duty in the National Guard, although those employees are free to use whatever vacation time they have accumulated. Employers only are required to hold the job open for a certain period of time.

Cobb was part of the Kosovo peacekeeping force. He spent a long, dark winter there, trying to run the Chaffee Police Department from afar as much as possible. He e-mailed regularly and called at least every 48 hours. He wrote letters to the Scott County Signal newspaper to let everyone in town know how he was doing.

But, realistically, someone working full-time in a formerly war-torn country on the other side of the world can't address the day-to-day operations in a small, Scott County police department.

He returned in May to a hero's welcome. It seemed every person in the city stopped by for a welcome-home celebration. None of them was as delighted as Cobb's long-suffering wife -- 2001 marked her second Christmas without her husband in 12 years of marriage -- and two young boys.

Then, a sudden separation.

Last month, Cobb committed to replacing Scott City's retiring police chief, Danny Clubb. Cobb has lived in Scott City for five years and was making the 10-minute commute to Chaffee every working day.

Cobb is going to a town of only 1,500 residents more and for a pay raise of only $500 more a year. He said it's because the police department is larger and offers more challenges.

After all that history, Chaffee Mayor Bill Cannon said the council has no regrets about standing by their hometown boy and beloved police chief.

And that may make Chaffee the most understanding jilted spouse in Southeast Missouri history.

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