With news of the death Wednesday of former St. Francois County Sheriff Kenneth “Ken” Buckley, 91, friends, family and colleagues are remembering a man who loved his community and was an unwavering proponent for law enforcement throughout the region.
Born Nov. 4, 1925 in Flat River (now Park Hills), Buckley graduated from Flat River High School and then attended college at Southwest Missouri State in Springfield where he obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture. He also attended the Missouri Highway Patrol Academy.
Buckley married Peggy Lou Fisher and the couple raised five sons and a daughter — Keith, Kevin, Kary, Karter, Klayton and Penny — in Flat River.
“Dad was a champion stock car driver in the late ’40s and through the ’50s,” his oldest son, Keith Buckley, said. “He raced at the Davis Crossing track; the old Fredericktown track; in Chester, Illinois; Cape Girardeau … I mean, he raced all the tracks back in those days. He won a number of track championships. He was pretty big into racing.”
After serving in the United States Army during World War II, Buckley returned home and opened two Flat River service stations — Cities Service on Taylor Street and the Shell Station on Main Street. It was during this time that he started Buckley Towing Company. In addition to that, Buckley also owned a charter bus service that provided transportation to a number of events.
Twelve years later, he ran for St. Francois County Sheriff and ended up serving a total of 20 years — from 1964 to 1976 and then again from 1980 to 1988.
Asked why his father decided to enter law enforcement, Keith Buckley said, “What he told me was that when he was drafted in World War II he was in the 37th Infantry Division and served in the Philippines. He won a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart over there. I guess one of his best friends in the military was a sheriff from Tennessee and that got him thinking about it. That’s what interested him in doing it once he got out of the service.”
During his time as sheriff, Buckley was instrumental in founding the local chapter of the law enforcement explorer group as well as the sheriff’s posse and the mobile crime unit. According to St. Francois County Sheriff Dan Bullock, Buckley was also a mentor for many young law enforcement officers.
“Many of the officers that are in law enforcement today got their start through Ken Buckley — including myself,” Bullock said. “Had it not been for him and a few other people, I would not have the position I’m in now. He was well-respected throughout the county — a people’s sheriff. He did a good job in bringing law enforcement up-to-date. We’ve gone a long way since then, but for the time he had a progressive approach.
“When I was a young officer just starting out, I would wonder, ‘Why did the sheriff do that?’ He was my boss and I did what he said, but I couldn’t understand it. Now that I’ve been in this job 25 years, I understand now why he made some of the decisions that he made. I learned a lot of things to do — and a lot of things not to do. Years after he retired, I still called Ken ‘Sheriff’ because he was the only sheriff I knew growing up and he was always the sheriff to me.”
By Kevin R. Jenkins | Daily Journal