Created on Saturday, 04 February 2012 Written by REUBEN MEES
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the Feb. 4, 2012, edition of the Bellefontaine Examiner.
Yep, old Russ Weiser's back in jail again.
The man who helped train Logan County Sheriff Andy Smith — along with nearly everyone else who is currently working at the sheriff's office — returned to work at the Juvenile Detention Center this week after a nine-month bout with cancer.
Mr. Weiser, who started his career in the same location in the jail built in the 1860s, calls his months of chemotherapy and bladder removal nothing more than "a bump in the road."
Despite his reluctance to talk about the ordeal, his fellow workers are extremely pleased to see him back in uniform.
"The sheriff and I hired on the same day and Russ is one of the guys they pointed at and said 'Do what he says.' He's always had a saying 'firm but fair' and it's meant a lot to me," said Lt. Greg Fitzpatrick, who oversees the jail and JDC.
"I'm not saying the place went to shambles without him, but the effect he has on everyone — not just the detainees, but the staff — I don't think they realize the effect he has on people. Things just run very well with him there."
The longtime corrections officer went on sick leave in May and has endured a lengthy battle, but he says it's no big deal.
"It's just a bump in life. I've had a smile on my face the whole time," Mr. Weiser said. "It's really no big deal. Thousands of people go through these kinds of trials and tribulations in their lives."
After dragging his heels on the diagnosis of the cancer, Mr. Weiser succumbed to the hearts he most feared to break.
"Honestly, probably the only reason I had anything done was my grandchildren," he said as a tear welled up in the eye of what many jail or JDC inmates over the years have seen as an otherwise hard-nosed disciplinarian.
"I feel fortunate to have the gang around again," he said, referencing both fellow corrections officers and the youths he tries to help find a better path in life. "My real family and this whole surrogate family have meant a heck of a lot."
In addition to the support of his wife Judith and other family members, Mr. Weiser got a boost from the gang as he went through his trial.
"When I went on sick leave three years ago, he and who else sent me cards — inmates, staff, sometimes phony names and even dead people. It was funny and it lifted my spirits," Lt. Fitzpatrick said.
"So I went out and bought a box of Christmas cards and we crossed out Christmas and wrote get well to show how cheap we are. Then we got a bunch of people to sign them and mailed him one a week. When I learned he was coming back, I had four left so I sent them all at once."
And the playful gesture didn't go unrecognized.
"You can't believe how much the cards meant," Mr. Weiser said.
Although the grandfather has never been active with cancer awareness programs, the same force that drove him to fight to live will now drive him to help others.
"It's not in my family so I've never been involved," the cancer survivor said. "But my granddaughter (Melinda Hilty, who is a junior at Benjamin Logan High School) has told me, 'You will be walking with me during the Relay for Life.' She said I'm going to be there, so I will."
And despite the trying year, he has never felt younger.
"I'm 66 but I feel like I'm 30," Mr. Weiser said.