When the oh-too-familiar-theme from The Andy Griffith Show echoes from a cell phone, you know at once without looking up that Dennis Strow has entered the room.
Like Matt Dillon in the olden days of Dodge City, there’s a swagger when he approaches but it’s not born of arrogance, but rather confidence, experience and happiness. It’s a gait that fits good law men of all types–Matt Dillon and Dennis Strow alike.
Strow, Williston’s Chief of Police for the last 18 months, was chosen by Williston Pioneer readers as their Pioneer of the Year.
By definition, a pioneer is someone who ventures into an unknown territory and settles or opens up new areas of thought, research or development.
In his nomination letter, written by Gail Poupard Brown, Strow is called a trail blazer, a leader and an initiator.
Since coming to the Williston Police Department, he has continually looked for new ways of doing old things, all the while becoming more and more at one with the community he serves.
But there’s more to Dennis Strow than wearing the police chief designation and to fully understand that, you have to know more about him.
Born and reared in Ocala to parents, Richard and Cora, he credits his folks with making him the man he is today.
“They were the best parents ever,” he said. “I never saw them fight.”
His father a printer–and later a teacher–and his homemaker mother kept him grounded.
“We were poor, but no one told us,” he said of growing up in the country on a dirt road.
It was a storybook childhood with parents who loved him and a brother who was his friend and playmate.
There wasn’t a lot of vacations back in those days, he remembers, but that didn’t stop the family from spending quality time together doing low cost activities.
An aunt and uncle, who were childless, became like second parents to he and his brother, Ricky. Toys and bicycles were kept at their house in the city and the boys didn’t pass up many opportunities to visit.
“We had a modest lifestyle,” he said of the early years. “We were simple country people. I like simple things.”
An average student, he said he never had discipline problems.
Adam 12 and The Andy Griffith Show were his favorite television programs and somewhere along the line he fell in love with law enforcement.
So much in love that he knew from a very early age he was going to be a police officer and never set his sights anywhere else.
When he was 12, he wrote of his passion to the Marion County sheriff who invited him to come have a look-see around the office.
It was the most critical point of his career because it started a series of events that led to an almost 40-year career in law enforcement.
He worked in the sheriff’s office with the DCT program at age 16 and after high school went to police recruit school.
Upon completion, he was hired by the sheriff’s department and spent the first part of his career on patrol.
“I’ve had a very blessed career,” he said. “I have seen and done things the average person only dreams about. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
In the midst of his new career he met and married his late wife, Linda. The couple has two children, Jonathan “Bubba” and Tiffany.
With new responsibilities, Strow returned to school, earned an associate’s degree and climbed the ladder, finally retiring in 2011 with the rank of major.
His retirement coincided with the police chief vacancy in Williston and he knew he had to apply for the job.
“I always wanted to be a small town chief,” he said.
When he was offered the job, he knew for fact that dreams do come true because he was living his.
As chief, not only is Strow tasked with managing a force and wearing a uniform, he’s also responsible for ensuring the department stays within its budget.
“I try to be a good steward of the citizens’ money,” he said. “We do what we have to without compromising safety.” To that end, he concluded his first year on the job at 2 percent under budget.
And some of that can be attributing to the department’s leaders–Clay Connolly, James Bond and himself, taking their turn to work on the road, rather than sit behind a desk.
“I try not to sit in the office,” he said, “because if you do, you’re not aware of what’s going on.”
Community policing–being highly visible in the town you serve. It’s something he strongly believes and strives for each day.
A member of the Rotary Club and the spearhead behind the Friends of the Williston Police Department Inc., he is making strides in networking in his newly adopted home.
Strow said he greets each day with anticipation and looks forward to being on the job.
“I'm always thinking,” he said, “about what I can do to make things better.”
He has a visionary list of projects and hopes to implement them soon–and that includes working more with the city’s youth. He dreams of softball teams where both police officers and firefighters can play against each other and with the youth in the community.
When he’s not in Williston taking care of business, he can be found at Gator football games, working in his yard (“I do my best thinking on the lawnmower.”), trying out new restaurants or spiriting away to the Tennessee mountains, where like in Williston, he owns property that will one day be built on.
Occasionally, he’ll take in a movie–but always a comedy because he believes in laughter or he’ll hop in his truck and take long drives through the Ocala National Forest while the sounds of the Grand Ol’ Opry blasts from the radio.
“I’m truly blessed,” he said again. “I plan to be here for a long time.”