Capt. Doug Anderson of the McPherson County Sheriff's Office goes by many nicknames. As a officer for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program commonly known as DARE, he tells students to call him "Detective Doug," but to many area educators, he is known as "The Legend."
"The first stuff I started doing in the schools was safety awareness stuff," Anderson recalled.
Anderson became a DARE officer in 1993, training for two weeks in Colorado and graduating at the top of the class. He began teaching the curriculum in elementary schools in Inman, Windom, Canton, Marquette and Lindsborg, and also taught students at Moundridge Middle School.
Over his 26 years with DARE, Anderson estimates he taught around 5,000 students — some of whom were children of individuals in his earliest classes.
Each class was special in its own way, whether it was comprised of seven students or 50, Anderson said, but there was one that showed him DARE's value beyond teaching of the dangers of drug abuse.
"I remember at one school, one gal had a learning disability and when it came time to read her essay ... she was very shy, very embarrassed and she had trouble doing it," Anderson said.
Another student in the girl's group was one of the most popular boys in school, who quickly offered to stand beside her and brought the rest of the group up as she read.
"He told her, 'go ahead and read your essay, we're right here with you,'" Anderson said. "I thought, well, this is a really cool program."
Unfortunately, not every student who graduated from Anderson's DARE program kept their pledge to not drink alcohol until they turned 21. In 2000, five years after he went through DARE, Canton-Galva High School junior Kyle McMannis died in an alcohol-related crash.
"That affected me so much; he really was a good kid," Anderson said.
Anderson was so discouraged by McMannis' death that he seriously considered resigning as a DARE officer.
"I had kind of made up mind my that that was it, I was done," Anderson said.
At McMannis' funeral, another of Anderson's former DARE students came up to him and told him what an impact he had made on his life. That man, Tom Kueser, was in Anderson's first DARE class at Canton Elementary School and recently became a McPherson County Commissioner.
"I will forever remember being a sixth grader and watching Detective Doug walk in our classroom," Kueser said. "From day one he was not only a teacher, but more importantly a friend and mentor. Detective Doug and the DARE program absolutely had positive effect on my life at an early age."
Anderson's dedication and caring spirit made DARE a major influence on the students in McPherson County, according to Kueser.
"(Detective Doug) is the type of guy who you can run into on the street and he still remembers you," Kueser said. "As you look over your life, there are a handful of people that are placed there for a divine reason. I can confidently say that, in my life, Detective Doug Anderson is in my group. I am so thankful for his teachings and friendship."
With Kueser's encouragement, Anderson kept teaching the DARE curriculum, which has undergone several major revisions through the years. The updates include sections on vaping, prescription drugs and bullying.
"We're not just talking about drugs, we're talking about making responsible and safe decisions," Anderson said.
The DARE program also changed Anderson's role from being a lecturer to a facilitator in the classroom, encouraging students to discuss the issues they face.
Anderson served as the DARE training officer for the state of Kansas for two year and is now a DARE mentor, teaching other law enforcement officers the curriculum.
"One thing that DARE does is to let kids see us not as cops, but as people," Anderson said.
Walking into a school — or down a street — in uniform and receiving smiles and high-fives instead of scowls is one of the rewards Anderson said DARE made possible.
"It gives me great satisfaction, seeing kids later saying, 'hey, Detective Doug!' and they're no longer kids, they're grown up," Anderson said.
Anderson said he enjoys being around the teachers, staff and students at each school and his decades of experience there have resulted in heightened communication skills valuable to his other duties working for the sheriff's office.
"When you're talking to victims of crimes, sometimes they're kids, and that gives you a bit of an advantage," Anderson said.
Each school at which Anderson taught DARE this year has recognized him for his service and Anderson said he looks forward to reading the stack of cards from students and teachers.
"I will miss it," Anderson said. "I enjoy it a lot ... but it's time for somebody else."
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.