BEARER OF BAD NEWS FINDS MOST PEOPLE TO BE 'REALLY GREAT'

April 30, 2001 12:00 am
KEEPING IN THE KNOW: The telephone, a computer and a willingness to talk to people have kept Union County Sheriff's Civil Deputy Donna Knox in the know about people throughout the county for nearly 25 years. (The Observer/T.L. PETERSEN).
KEEPING IN THE KNOW: The telephone, a computer and a willingness to talk to people have kept Union County Sheriff's Civil Deputy Donna Knox in the know about people throughout the county for nearly 25 years. (The Observer/T.L. PETERSEN).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

It wont be Donna coming to the door anymore.

For dozens of people who have been served court papers over the past 25 years, that may be a huge change. Union County Sheriffs Deputy Donna Knox is retiring today, after 24 years on the job.

The one job clearly outlined by law in Oregon is that of the sheriff or his representative who will serve court orders or enforce them on the countys citizens.

Sometimes that means subpoenas, other times divorce papers, sometimes eviction notices, infrequently it means removing children from a home, and just about everything in between.

For most of her years with the sheriffs office, delivering those papers has been Knoxs primary job. She has also served as a clerk and a jail matron, but the duties of civil deputy have helped her learn just about every byway and back road in Union County.

If she gets lost? I just wander around and ask questions, she says. Most people are very, very nice.

As are most dogs in Union County, especially those who have met Knox.

Every dog in the county know me, she laughs. I carry dog treats.

What she hasnt carried for years is a gun. She wears a uniform, and often drives a marked sheriffs vehicle, but theres no gun.

I pride myself in known who people are, she explains, knowing whos related to whom, and whats going on in their lives. Very seldom has there been trouble.

However Knox knows that every delivery could be trouble. She often checks in with deputies to be sure she isnt walking into a dangerous situation.

Sometimes her system backfires. Knox recalls being told not to go to a certain address that was thought to be a drug house. She didnt connect the name on the court papers with the house shed been told to avoid, and went and served the papers.

The next day, the countys anti-drug task force arrested several of the people at the house.

People come to the door for me, Knox said. Shes been at a door, in uniform, and often overheard those inside say, Oh, its just Donna.

While Knox laughs now, she recognizes that her work through four sheriffs terms in office hasnt always been carefree.

She recalls, years ago, that a woman in custody pulled a knife on a deputy in a small room. She went in to help, thinking police officers were behind her. They werent.

The situation resolved itself, but Knox has worked to keep herself out of such situations since then.

You never know when youre going up and knocking on a door whats happening (with the people inside), and then they see a uniform.

Only a rare few of the people she goes in search of try to hide from her. And then, her network goes into effect. It doesnt take her long to find out when someone will be leaving for work, stopping by for a cup of coffee, or visiting friends.

Knox will leave her office for the last time this afternoon, carrying the knickknacks and memories collected over the years.

And shell take away her own personal motto for the job, and the memory of the advice her mother gave her long ago.

First, her motto: If you cant convince them, confuse them.

Basically, in a tenuous situation, Knox talks. And talks, and talks some more.

And then she falls back often on what she learned from her mother: Mother always told me dont worry about being a nice person, be a good person.

In her role as a good person, Knox says she often finds herself helping citizens understand the law enforcement and legal system. As a deputy, she cant give legal advice, but she can point the way for people in need of answers to their questions.

I try to stay alert and use my brain, not my brawn, Knox says. There is security she says, in knowing that the other county deputies will back her up. The deputies are the biggest sweethearts.

The phone rings. A man Knox hasnt seen in about a year has a question regarding co-signing some papers.

She listens, asks a few leading questions, and urges him to keep thinking about the situation, and maybe talk to some other people.

Knox had wanted to retire a few years from now, but health issues are forcing the matter now.

She hopes to continue working with livestock investigations, and as she gets healthier she plans to do more volunteering and playing with a retired sister, she says, the things I never had energy to do when I was working.

And shell remember moments caught in time.

Such as the day a few years ago when she was in High Valley. While tromping across a field to reach the person she was serving, she fell.

As she was on the ground, she says, a cow came running over. Less than excited about being investigated by a cow, Knox wondered what to do.

Just then, a cow dog entered the picture and quickly made the cow back off.

As Knox says, the dogs know her.