ROCKLAND – Two longtime partners in crime are packing up 60 years of service to Knox County’s Sheriff’s Department and heading for retirement.
Wanda and Harold “Perley” Axtell will retire in mid-November with a combined six decades of service to the county.
Wanda Axtell, 62, has worked full time as the sheriff’s secretary since Halloween of 1981, when Sheriff George Massie was in charge. She has worked for outgoing Sheriff Daniel Davey for the past 22 years as secretary and been civil process coordinator and a civil process server throughout her tenure.
“Wanda has always been an inspiration,” Davey said on Friday. “She’s just about always in a good mood and is a positive influence to all.”
The Axtells met at the sheriff’s office where Perley, now 78, already had been working part time for a decade. They married three years later.
He started out in 1972 as a full-time sheriff’s deputy after retiring from the U.S. Postal Service. His stint as a deputy was short-lived, but for 35 years he has worked part time for the sheriff wherever needed, whether as a deputy, jail officer, dispatcher or civil process server.
Both husband and wife are deputized officers for serving civil papers.
“Perley is a very dedicated member of the sheriff’s office,” Davey said. “He’s going to be sorely missed.”
The life experience that the couple has cannot be learned in the classroom, Davey said, making their expertise difficult to replace.
As a go-between for the sheriff and the public for a quarter century, Wanda Axtell has witnessed more of life’s sorrows than joys, she said last week.
“When there are automobile accidents, I’ll often talk to parents,” she said. “I’ve had parents come in. They leave, and I feel like I could sit down and cry.”
Other difficult times are those involving domestic violence, she said, recalling an incident when the sheriff’s office was in the white wooden building next to the courthouse.
A married couple, with their respective boyfriend and girlfriend, all came to the sheriff’s office “yelling and screaming,” Axtell said, and she was all alone.
“I made two of them go outside and sit in separate vehicles,” she said.
“Putting people out of houses – that’s a hard thing to do,” she said of evicting families who don’t pay their rent.
One time, as a civil processor, she had to watch a grandmother, husband, wife and four or five children be removed from a small trailer home two days before Christmas, “and that makes you sad,” she recalled.
Mostly, she directs people where and how to get assistance or documents they need for civil matters such as divorces, adoptions, small claims and such. She does the same for criminal cases and accidents by either directing them to patrol deputies or providing accident reports.
As the sheriff’s secretary, Axtell is involved in doing state background checks for people who are adopting, for foreign exchange students heading abroad, for local lawyers, and for concealed weapons permits.
Besides booking interview appointments for the sheriff and deputies, she keeps commissions for deputies current and arranges for fingerprinting of teachers, sex offenders, and people adopting children or working in government jobs.
“I sweep the floors and do my windows,” she quipped.
“Part of my duties here is filling the Coke machine and counting the change,” Perley Axtell said.
Perley Axtell, who currently is serving as a civil processor, didn’t want to steal his wife’s thunder, given she’s the one who has worked “full time” for the sheriff for so many years. He’s just a part-timer, he said. He also worked many years in real estate after leaving the post office.
“He pretty much taught me all about the civil process papers,” Wanda Axtell said.
Although Perley Axtell is officially retiring so the couple can enjoy a little freedom together, he plans to help out the sheriff in a pinch.
Wanda Axtell will miss working with a group of folks who “feel like family,” she said, and being able to help the public.