Harris Terry always has enjoyed serving the people of McPherson County.
After working 47 years in county government, his professional career in some ways became less of a job and more of a passion. And as his time as county commissioner ends, he wants to keep it that way.
“I was ready for someone else to take over,” he said. “I enjoyed doing it, I still enjoy doing it. I wanted to leave when I still felt good about it, not just hanging on to be hanging on."
It is easy for Marquette-born McPherson resident to recall his years in the area. He served in local law enforcement for 27 years, beginning as deputy sheriff when he was only 23.
Then, after being elected, he began his 20 years of work as county commissioner about 1981. His time in this position ends Monday.
“I felt like between the years with law enforcement and county commission, that it was time,” he said. “There’s always a certain aspect of any job, especially work that you enjoy doing, that you’re going to miss.”
He said a lot of those fond memories will be of the friendships he built. Among the many are Rep. Don Schroeder, who worked with him while he was on the commission, and Linda Paul, former register of deeds, who worked with him while he was sheriff and commissioner.
“I always thought he was very thoughtful and not a reactive type,” Schroeder said. “I always appreciated that very much. In something like the county commission, being reactive usually doesn’t work very well. It works better if you think it through, get information and go from that point.”
Paul said she appreciated his thoughtful processing.
“One of the things he offered was he’d always listen first," she said of his time as sheriff. “He would give you his thoughts in a friendly way.”
She also respected his approach to decision making.
“He always had substance to back up why he was going to vote the way he was going to,” she said. “That I appreciated. It wasn’t because he said so, but it was because the law or the statutes said so. You felt more confident in the answer he gave you.”
Terry no doubt made many decisions and saw many changes occur in the community.
One of the projects he is most proud of overlaps his time as sheriff and commissioner. He saw a need for a new law enforcement center during his time as sheriff. The process took a while to complete, and once it made its way to commission meetings, he was able to see it through in 1994.
“It was a major project that was able to get accomplished for the people in McPherson County, and something that the rest of the community drastically needed for law enforcement,” he said. “It was a very fulfilling process to work through all that and see it all done because it was definitely a needed facility.”
Other highlights include celebrating the 100th anniversary of the courthouse, being part of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s funeral in Abilene, and meeting the king of Sweden when he came to Lindsborg.
“To me, the purpose of county government is to provide services people as a whole can’t provide for themselves, but it’s to benefit the people,” he said. “The decisions we make now will affect the next generation.”
Some of the more difficult aspects of being on the county commission were making decisions that were more controversial in nature, such as converting railroads to trails or what to do with a county landfill north of town. Terry said he always tried to keep his focus on what the issues were and not get too caught up emotionally.
“Yet I also tried to understand where (county residents) were coming from,” he said. “I think for the most part they understand there’s changes going on, and I think if you have good government in place in trying to work through those things. Even though it may not come out necessarily the way they like it, I think, for the most part, it’s acceptable. I think that part of it is healthy. Yes, we have differences of opinion, but we work through them."
Terry also said he has witnessed county government go through a number of changes, such as the progression of technology, and additional regulations coming down from the state.
“I enjoy county government,” he said. “I feel like I’m accomplishing something more than for just a company or myself. It’s serving people, and I have no doubt that’s the way God wired me to be.”
The soon-to-be-retired employee looks upon his time serving as a privilege.
“My goal was always to do the best job I could do for the interest of the people in McPherson County and try to be fair and make the right decisions,” he said. “I think, for the most part, I’ve done that.”