For better or for worse, longtime Toledo Police Department reserve sergeant Randy Pennington rarely does things halfway.
For many of his friends, family and law enforcement colleagues who gathered at Toledo High School on Thursday to celebrate Pennington’s retirement and share stories, that trait makes him legendary.
“There (are) no more reserves like Randy,” said former Toledo Police Chief Sam Patrick. “Here's a guy that is so either dedicated or lost his frickin’ mind, will call you up on a beautiful day like today and say, ‘You know, you got some time to burn, you'll be able to take time off while you get paid. And what the heck. I'll do that for free.’ You just don't do that without the passion that Randy has.”
Patrick and his predecessor, longtime Toledo Police Chief John Brockmueller, recalled some of the antics Pennington was involved in during his tenure with the department, including pulling over a driver who wasn’t wearing a seat belt only to discover the driver was on the FBI’s terrorist watch list.
Pennington arrested the driver on a misdemeanor warrant from another county, and got a call from the FBI about the driver that same day.
“The man is a hound dog because, I’ve never seen anybody dig into a case so far that the FBI is like ‘stop,’” said Patrick. “But I’ve appreciated being his boss as he’s been mine. And I’m the person I am in part because of Randy.”
He retired earlier this month at the age of 71 after 36 years as a reserve officer and sergeant for the Toledo Police Department.
“There were so many sleepless nights where I was thinking ‘What is Randy doing?’” Brockmueller fondly recalled. “There’s just no stopping the man.”
Toledo School District Superintendent Chris Rust thanked Pennington for the work he’s done with students in his district.
“There is no higher calling to me than community service, service to your neighbors and to your town, and especially to kids. And Randy exemplifies that,” Rust said. “I can't remember how many times I've gotten a call on a weekend or evening when he's trying to keep one of my kids out of danger or reminding me that maybe I ought to close one of the windows of the middle school, after he’d gone through the entire building and made sure it was clear.”
His sister recalled riding alongside Pennington in his police vehicle one night and finding a goat tied to a tree near a business that had burned down. Pennington drove them to a nearby orchard and told his sister to jump the fence and steal an apple so they could rescue the goat.
“Randy, I’m in a cop car,’” she recalled telling Pennington, only for him to reply, “‘It’s OK, I’m the cop.’ So baby sister gets out of the car, steals a shirt full of apples and back to the goat we go,” she said.
The goat turned out to belong to a local landowner, she said.
“So that was just a treat for the goat. But many memories, Ran. I'm glad you retired, the stress over the years, but you've been safe and helped people along the way and I’m very proud of you.”
His nephew said Pennington was the reason he became a 911 dispatcher and a Toledo reserve officer.
“He truly is selfless. I think that’s the word. It doesn’t matter what you do, what you need, he’s got you. Whether you’re in handcuffs or not, he’s got you.”
Pennington himself had a different view on his career: “I think you all are confusing a couple of words: ‘legendary’ with ‘notorious.’”
That said, he thanked the Toledo and law enforcement communities for their support throughout his career.
“I didn’t draw a check, but I was paid every single time someone said ‘Thank you,’” Pennington said.
Pennington and his wife, Carrie, credited their family and their community for supporting Pennington enough that he was able to do the tough work he did as a reserve officer.
“For those of you in uniform here, I will always respect and love you. I don't care what uniform it is for you, fire, police, a star, or a shield. We are a family they always will be,” said Pennington.
He recalled training some of the officers that were sitting in Toledo’s bleachers as he spoke on Thursday, saying, “And one of the things I imparted to all of them, I don’t care if it’s fire or police, your most important job when you go on duty is to go home. God bless you.”
“Randy and I will be married 39 years this September,” Carrie Pennington said. “And it’s been a wonderful 39 years; 36 of it, he spent being a police officer, dispatcher, paramedic, everything to everybody, including his family. We raised our family, we’re very proud of them all, and they are part of this because without them, he wouldn’t have been able to keep going and doing it, I’m sure. But he always came home. And I wish for every officer that’s in this room to go home. Because he’s home now.”