Ryker: “This Is A Lot More About Them Than Me”

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No matter what it says on the plaque, Litchfield Police Chief Kenny Ryker knows that he is not the Litchfield Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Citizen of the Year.

“I think it’s more of a recognition to the department than it is to me or any individual, which is a great thing,” Ryker said of the honor. “The chamber of commerce certainly represents the heartbeat of a community and if they see what we’re doing collectively as something good that is improving the community, that’s pretty amazing.

That’s not to say that Ryker is not deserving on his own merits. In the 18 years that he’s lived in Litchfield, Ryker has dedicated his time to his new hometown both on the job and off it, spending hours on the baseball and football fields in town coaching his son and dozens of other future Panthers.

But Ryker’s nomination for the award is less about him and more about the department that he has been a part of since 2002, when he first came to Litchfield from Clay City.

“One of my best friends worked for Illinois Consolidated here in town and I was working in the State’s Attorney’s office in Clay County,” Ryker explained on how he landed in Litchfield. “I was applying for jobs all over. He saw an ad in the paper and called me. I tested and it was the first place to offer me a job, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Ryker, who graduated high school from Clay City in 1997 and from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 2001, worked his way up to sergeant by 2008 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2015. By that time he had been in Litchfield for 13 years, but if you weren’t around the ball fields or up late at night, you might not have crossed paths with the future chief.

“I worked midnights and the South Central Illinois Drug Task Force when I started, but I didn’t come to days until a few years before I became chief,” said Ryker, who spent five years on the task force. “I was still kind of the new guy for some folks, but really I was just a night owl up until then.”

Since taking over as chief from Chief Lee Jarman in 2019, Ryker has become a more visible part of the community. He still coached his son Braydon’s baseball team, or was supposed to before COVID-19 cancelled what was to be their final season together. Ryker’s wife, Ashley, also volunteers for the Litchfield Sports Boosters and Litchfield Music Boosters, among other groups, keeping the family involved in things at LHS, where Braydon is a freshman. Through coaching, Ryker got to know another parent, Mark Sypherd, who passed away after a short battle with cancer in July 2018 at the age of 50.

“Mark and I coached baseball together for many years, then both of started helping Shane (Litchfield Police Officer Shane Grammer) out with football,” Ryker said of Sypherd, whose son, A.J. is also a freshman at Litchfield High School. “Mark would have been a better candidate for this than me, by far. He was involved in a lot more.”

Ryker was able to pay tribute to his friend not long after his passing as he and Ashley teamed up for Stamp Out Cancer, with Ryker closing out the show with “The Auctioneer” in honor of Sypherd, who worked for Aumann Auction Service. Since then he and others have kept an eye on A.J., Mark’s wife Rose, and Mark’s daughter Amanda, who is 12.

“A.J. has his own little army of dudes helping him out and Amanda’s hobby was busting my chops for a number of years,” Ryker said. “A lot of businesses and organizations really helped out with Stamp Out Cancer. It’s a really neat event.”

Ryker’s outreach comes in part from the same place his career path comes from, his father, who was the sheriff in Clay County from 1990 to 2005.

“He was hugely active in our community,” Ryker said of his father, who still managed to find time to coach him and his sister growing up. “Being he was an elected official, we were at every event, especially in election years. People knew him and respected him. Big shoes. I may be following in his path, but I don’t know that I’ve filled them yet.”

The award, means that Ryker, and the Litchfield Police Department, are headed in that direction, even though the department has lost some key members due to retirement.

“The good thing is that we’ve been comprised of some really talented, professionals since I started here. Keeping that tradition and moving forward with any improvements we can make would be my main goal for the department,” said Ryker, who has four new officers, plus one officer who returned after briefly moving away, to Litchfield since Feb. 2019. “The guys that we have gotten are performing very well and they’re very proactive and very energetic, which always adds a nice mix. The community is incredibly fortunate to have this high level of professionalism in their department, especially in such a small town.”

And Ryker counts himself as fortunate too, another reason why he believes the citizen of the year honor goes more toward the department than to him.

“For me I’ve been very fortunate my entire life, whether it be in a family connection, a personal connection or a professional connection, to be surrounded by some amazing people,” Ryker said. “This is a lot more about them than it is about me. I’m a lucky guy.”

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