A Charlotte cop who has worked eight of the last 10 Thanksgivings walked into an ambush of a sorts Thursday, when he was honored as one of the nation’s “Thanksgiving Heroes” and given a catered meal on the job.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Stephen Sterrett clearly suspected nothing, as he stepped through a door and found the division’s roll call room turned into a banquet hall, including tables adorned with china, folded cloth napkins and flower arrangements.
“You have any idea what’s going on?” asked Jenny Kemp, who organized the affair.
“Ahhh, no?” said Sterrett, looking confused in the doorway.
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“Good, then you’re really surprised,” she responded.
The banquet, which included food enough for the division’s entire Thanksgiving shift, marked the first time someone in the southeast U.S. is a winner in the national “Thanksgiving Heroes” contest, sponsored by California-based La Brea Bakery.
There were 3,000 entries this year, officials said, and Sterrett was among 10 chosen.
He was cited not just for being a police officer, but for off-time community service that includes being a Boy Scout merit badge counselor and teacher of drug/alcohol prevention classes for youths. Sterrett, who’s both a father and grandfather, also served 23 years in the Air Force.
He summed up his penchant for community service in simple terms: “I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
It’s his wife, Lane, who nominated him and was left to do the bragging on his behalf. The two have been married for 16 years, despite the fact that they hurried into things by tying the knot at a drive-thru chapel in Vegas. And it was on April Fools Day, no less. “And we met in a country bar,” she says, laughing.
Lane Sterrett says she learned of the contest on Facebook and was surprised when told earlier this week that her husband won.
She says she was prompted in part to make the nomination after seeing the stress men like her husband endured during Charlotte’s week of violent protests in September. Those protest erupted over the fatal police shooting of an African American man, Keith Lamont Scott.
“I’m more worried now than I ever was when my husband was in the military,” said Lane Sterrett. “Then, he knew who the enemy was. You just don’t know now. I worry he’ll be shot during traffic stops, or sitting alone in a car filling out reports.”
Stephen Sterrett said he long ago stopped counting how many holiday shifts he has worked. One thing those shifts taught him, he says, is that we often forget what’s important during the holidays.
“The worst thing I see working Thanksgiving is domestic trouble,” he said. “People get to arguing over things, and they blow things out of proportion, forgetting what the holiday is about. Sometimes, I remind them that they’re taking what they’ve got for granted. We all do it sometimes.”