Well `above and beyond'

Auxiliary police officer has volunteered over 20,000 hours

June 24, 2007|By Jessica Dexheimer | Jessica Dexheimer,sun reporter

"Look, it's General Herb!" said a landscaper as auxiliary officer Herb Michael Sr. nears the front door of the Howard County Northern District police station.

Michael is heavily decorated, but he is no general. He is a volunteer.

But he is no ordinary volunteer.

During his 11 years as a volunteer auxiliary officer for the Howard County police, Michael has volunteered more than 20,000 hours and the 18 badges on his uniform show that his commitment does not go unnoticed.

"They just like to give out these ribbons, I guess," Michael said with a smile.

Michael was named Howard County's Volunteer of the Year in 2003. A year later, he was named Howard County's Most Beautiful Person and was recognized statewide for his dedication to making Howard County a better place.

Michael shies away from the limelight.

"I shouldn't have won. If there are 50 people in a volunteer organization, they should all win," Michael said. "They're all making a difference, and you can't say my work is more important than what they're doing -- it's all important."

Auxiliary officers like Michael are required to dedicate a minimum of 16 hours a month to assisting the police force. Their tasks include directing traffic, issuing parking tickets, working at DWI sobriety checkpoints, performing home security surveys and dealing with abandoned vehicles.

"It's good training for people who want to be cops," Michael said. "Basically, we do everything but respond to crime scenes."

He added: "We take care of what we can so that police officers can respond better to emergencies in the community."

And they do it for free.

"I'm not in it for the rewards or a paycheck. Corny as it sounds, you get a lot out of [volunteering]. You get the same satisfaction of the people you are trying to help," Michael said.

Michael surpasses the 16-hour monthly minimum on a weekly basis. Three days a week, he reports to work at 4 a.m. and works until 4 p.m.

One duty inherent with Michael's early start time is assisting school crossing guards, and this has given him opportunities to make even more of a difference.

He recalled one memorable experience at an elementary school.

"I saw this little girl," Michael said. "It was the dead of winter. And it was a cold winter, and she had no sweater. No sweater, no coat, nothing. It was like her family forgot about her, like they didn't care about her."

Though it was not in his job description, he bought the girl two coats, two hats, two sets of gloves, and two scarves.

"Herb does his job above and beyond," said Patrick Adcock, a Howard County police cadet. "He does everything that he can, and he does it with the utmost enthusiasm."

For the past eight years, Michael has been providing shelters with food. He places a basket at the Hickory Ridge Giant Food store in Columbia, and every Monday he takes the donated food and toiletries to a shelter.

Michael said, "I don't do anything but pick up the basket. The people who fill it up are the ones who are really making a difference."

The self-described "born volunteer" has been helping others since he can remember.

Michael, who was born in Pittsburgh, said he joined the Navy during World War II when he was 16. Of the experience, he said, "It's not glamorous, but you do what you have to do."

During his 40-year career in the insurance business, he also volunteered as an ombudsman for Baltimore-area nursing homes.

His dedication to the elderly is evident even today, and Michael makes sure he stops by Howard County nursing homes when doing his rounds each morning.

One winter, a resident slipped out of Ellicott City's Heartlands Assisted Living community. The temperature was well below freezing, and search parties combed the area, looking for the resident. Michael followed his instinct, broke away from the crowd and discovered the missing woman in a nearby forest.

"There she was, in the woods. She was blue, absolutely freezing. She was out there for 10 or 12 hours and couldn't have made it much longer," Michael said.

"Why did I decide to come to work on a day that I wasn't scheduled? Why did I decide to leave the search party and drive down to the woods?" said Michael. "Some people may say it's bogus, but I say divine intervention had to play a part."

Along with Michael's extensive commitment to volunteer work, his wife, Grace, said he is very much a family man. The Columbia resident is a father of three, grandfather of seven and great-grandfather of two.

"Nothing ever comes before the family," Grace said. "Not his job, not his volunteer work. Herb would never allow it, and I would never allow it."

Grace says she has "gotten used to" Herb's early mornings.

"I'm very proud of him. He's proud of what he does, and the whole family's proud of what he's accomplished," Grace said.

Michael said he will continue to volunteer as an auxiliary officer "as long as my health holds out."

He added, "I'm definitely old compared to everyone here," though he declined to mention his age.

Michael said he does not "deserve a lot of credit. You know, if an officer is working eight hours a day and still makes time to volunteer 10, 20 hours a month, now that's commendable. I give them all the credit in the world. ... Howard County, we have some really admirable people. Officers like Scott Wheeler [who died last week working a traffic-enforcement detail], the Wheeler family, now they're heroes. They are who should be getting these awards."

jessi.dexheimer@baltsun.com

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