By JULIA ROBERTS GOAD
BELFRY, Ky. — A man who has been called Pike County’s rock star had a portion of US 119 named in his honor Wednesday.
A section of the highway from Stone to the West Virginia state line was named the Charles “Fuzzy” Keesee Corridor in honor of the longest serving Sheriff in Kentucky.
Among the public officials who spoke at the ceremony honoring Keesee was Magistrate Chris Harris, in whose district the corridor lies.
“I have to say, Fuzzy is the closest thing we have here in Pike County to a rock star,” Harris said.
The highway, from Pikeville to Williamson, was named the Paul and Judi Patton Highway, but former Governor Patton said they were glad they were sharing the honor with Sheriff Keesee.
“I can think of no better person for us to relinquish a section of the highway to,” Patton said.
Fuzzy Keesee was born in Belfry in 1927, the fourth of Moss and Della Myers Keesee’s nine children. Keesee’s first job was selling bread on Pond Creek for Betsy Ross Bakery. Driving door-to-door with his bread truck he met a lot of people, who quickly came to admire the big-hearted young man, who gave away a good part of his pay in free treats to the children he met along the way.
During that time, he married his first wife, Evelyn Hatfield Keesee in 1948. She worked alongside him in the Sheriff’s office until her death in 1990. Their daughter, Mildred Smith, who lives in Bath County, gave them two grandsons, Roman and Beckham, and three great-grandchildren.
Drafted in to the U.S. Army in 1952, Keesee served as a surgical medic in El Paso, Texas, organizing surgical instruments for a team of doctors.
Deployed to France with an infantry unit, he worked in a small dispensary, then an elementary school for military families’ children.
When his time was up, he returned to Kentucky with an honorable discharge and found work in a chemical factory in Louisville.
Longing for his birthplace and their families, he and Evelyn moved back to Pond Creek, where his father, Moss Keesee, was running for sheriff. The elder Keesee ran six times, was nominated by the Democrat Party three times, narrowly losing the General Election to Republican Duran Keel twice. Sheriff Moss Keesee served from 1958-1961. He did not run again, paving the way for his son’s political career.
Fuzzy Keesee’s first race for the sheriff’s office was a close one; he beat challenger Perry Justice by a mere 125 votes and took office in January 1962.
“My first three terms,” he recalled, “bootlegging was a problem. Then the City of Pikeville went wet and it disappeared overnight.”
During his first term,” he said, “we began to hear about marijuana. It wasn’t a big thing then.” Now, he says, “the drug problem is getting worse and causing a lot of crimes, even people killing people.” He estimates that 96-97 percent of the people in jail today are there because they get involved with drugs.
Over a span of four decades, Keesee’s office has matured.
“I put everybody in uniform,” he said. “They all have to complete academy training at Eastern Kentucky University. We developed guidelines, a policy manual, for deputies.”
The office has 15 full-time field deputies and one detective, retired KSP Detective Richard Ray. “We need 40 full-time deputies in the field,” Keesee pointed out. The gap is filled with about 17 volunteer deputies. “We provide their vehicle, gas, pay their expenses, but they volunteer their time.”
Ten deputies serve as bailiffs and security staff in the Hall of Justice. Another group of people works in the tax collection office and as dispatchers.
A volunteer Explorer Team, men and women ages 15-21, under the guidance of Richard Akers, assists with parking and traffic control at events such as ballgames and community festivals.
The Sheriff’s office also works with the Pike County Dive Team, headed by Danny Smith. “They are a volunteer group, but they have the training, the boat, and equipment necessary to search to a depth of 200-400 feet,” Keesee said.
Neighborhood Watch Groups are becoming more popular in Pike County, Keesee said.
“And we are here to help them,” said Keesee. “We’ve had as many as 15 of these groups at a time. The Neighborhood Watch Groups are the best crime-fighting groups because they patrol the neighborhoods where they live. They are much more effective than people would think. We help them get set up. They patrol and report. They are not armed and have no law enforcement powers, but they are effective because they know their neighborhoods well and know when something just isn’t right.”
Keesee’s office also serves all “process” for the courts: warrants, subpoenas, bench warrants, Emergency Protection Orders.
In addition, the sheriff is charged with all tax collections for the county. Keesee says the way the office is funded is “unusual.” The sheriff earns a commission for school tax collections. The office is paid a fee for serving warrants and other court process except for EPOs. The fiscal court gets 25 percent of every fee and commission and returns a portion of that in what is now about $310,000 as a supplement to the sheriff’s budget.
“We send all our fees to Frankfort,” he explained, “to the State Treasurer. We also send all our bills to the State Treasurer and they pay them.”
The Sheriff is personally responsible if his office goes over budget and Kentucky law requires him to make up any deficit.
Reflecting on a lifetime of service to the people of Pike County, Fuzzy Keesee said, “People have been awful good to me, and I give God the honor. He’s the main one, and I give him praise for giving me health, and the people for allowing me to serve.”
Keesee said what motivates him is his desire to help people.
“I like to be able to help people when they come in. I enjoy that.,” he said. “II enjoy meeting people. When I can help people, that’s a great accomplishment for me. When I can’t help a person, I feel bad and it worries me a little. I dislike not being able to help people who have a valid complaint.”
Keesee said he feels the pain of families who have lost members to drugs, and often attends the funerals of those victims.
“Funerals of young people who have OD’d, that’s rough. It’s hard, but I go out of respect for the family,” Keesee said. “There are not many families in our county but what’s had people affected by drugs. It’s all across the spectrum, prominent people to not so prominent.”
A bright spot in the War on Drugs, Keesee said, is that some headway is being made to keep drugs out of our schools. He commends Superintendent Roger Wagner for starting the Pike County Schools Drug Task Force.
In 1997, the widower married the former Edie Dotson, and expanded his family. Edie’s daughter, Belinda Smith, who lives in Lexington, has three children. Her stepdaughter, Donna Austin of Williamson, has two children, and they, Fuzzy says, bring his total number of grandchildren to seven.
He’s been shot at, never hit. He’s never fired a shot at anyone. He’s suffered the grief of losing three deputies in the line of duty: Earl Smith, killed by gunfire while serving a warrant; James Poyster “Poss” Keene, who Keesee called “fearless deputy,” killed in a car crash; and James I. Thacker, also killed in a car crash while on duty.
Pike County Judge Executive Wayne T. Rutherford spoke at the ceremony Wednesday.
Keesee was typically humbled at the dedication of the Fuzzy Keesee corridor.
“I am nervous, and joyful,” he said. “I want to thank all my friends and family who are here today to show their support. Growing up in Belfry, I never thought something like this would happen to me.”