Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, Champaign County Sheriff DUSTIN HEUERMAN, 37, chats with staff writer Paul Wood. Heuerman, a former community college instructor with a Ph.D., was surprised to be elected last fall but loves his new job.
Where did you grow up and what brought you here?
I grew up in rural Effingham, which is where all of my family lives. I moved to Tuscola in 2005 when I worked as a deputy for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and then moved to Champaign County in 2008 when I worked as a deputy up here. Even after taking my teaching position in Mattoon, we didn't want to leave everything that Champaign County has to offer, so we stayed. My husband and his family are from Champaign (he's currently a nurse at Carle), so it was a natural transition.
What was it like growing up?
Effingham wasn't nearly as exciting then as it seems now. If I recall, the most exciting thing to do in Effingham growing up was hanging out in the Walmart parking lot. I grew up in the country with a younger brother and sister, so before I could drive, we spent a lot of time outside and exploring the woods next to our house. My dad worked at a factory, and my mom worked at a bank. We had a really good life growing up. We weren't rich, but we weren't poor either.
What did you study?
I'm a product of a community college, where I received an associate degree in criminal justice and a certificate in management. I received my bachelor's and master's degrees in criminology from Indiana State University. My doctorate is in community college leadership, and I received that from Ferris State University in Michigan. I'm proud to be the first person in my family to receive a college degree.
What interested you in law enforcement?
I've always loved law enforcement. I think this is probably because my grandfather was a part-time police officer in Effingham. I grew up watching him in parades and trying on his uniforms when I went over to my grandparents' house. That evolved into wanting to experience the "action" of being a police officer, which eventually evolved into wanting to help people solve their problems in a way more than just showing my authority. As I got older and more experienced, this transition happened naturally.
Do you find it satisfying to be sheriff, and what do you like best?
Since taking office, I haven't regretted running for sheriff for even one day. I feel like I am in a position to not just talk about making the "system" better, but can actually help effect that change. I go home at the end of the day (or sometimes night) knowing that I have done my best that day to encourage and support my employees and provide a professional and competent office to serve our community. I have stopped looking at comments on social media, though, as I've learned that no matter what decisions I make, everyone has an opinion about them, even if they don't know anything about the topic.
What are your days like?
What I like most about the position is the challenge. There are no two days that are the same. Some days are easier and less stressful than others, but I have a good team to collaborate with when making decisions and always have the best interests of the office and the community at heart. I also love talking with community groups and legislators. We might not see eye-to-eye on everything, but I think it is important to hear multiple perspectives and talk about good, solid solutions for the issues our community is facing.
Tell us about your teaching career.
I started teaching in 2010 at Lake Land College in Mattoon, the same community college where I was a student a decade earlier. Though I had already gotten my master's degree in criminology, teaching really allowed me to get in-depth with the applicability of criminological theories. I loved helping show students that it wasn't just important to be able to arrest people for breaking the law — I was actually helping them work through how to take proactive steps to make people safer and prevent law breaking. We examined things like what motivates people to break the law and how we can involve the community in efforts to reduce crime.
What did you like about that job?
One of the most rewarding things about my teaching position was that as the program coordinator, I generally taught the same students from their first semester until their last semester at the college. I got to see them mature and progress and find their passion for the criminal justice field. If I'm being honest, not everyone is cut out to be a criminal-justice professional. Part of my responsibilities as a faculty member was also academic advisement. This was a great chance to chat with students about what the criminal-justice field was really like and if they had what it took to be successful in such a demanding career.
What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?
A most-recent decision in my career was leaving a tenured union teaching position to serve as sheriff. I had a long talk with my spouse, and we decided that my skills and experience could benefit Champaign County and we wanted to give the voters a choice in the election. I had nothing to lose by running for office, so I did.
Tell me about your favorite pet.
Do I have to pick just one? I have three small dogs, each of which weigh no more than 15 pounds. Two are twins and one is about 10 years older (he's their uncle). Each have their own personalities that makes them very special to me: grumpy Shadow, who wants me all to himself and who is willing to play with the other dogs, but only when we aren't looking; Junior, who will bark at anything, even the wind; and Roja, who rolls over and wants a belly rub more than any dog should. She has never met a stranger. Each has a way of making me feel better, even on the most stressful days.
What's your favorite sports team?
I grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan but have learned to appreciate soccer over the last several years. So, I'd have to say Real Madrid is my favorite "futbol" team if I had to pick one. Really, though, I can watch soccer for hours, no matter who is playing.
What would you order for your last meal?
Probably fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy and noodles. It isn't necessarily my favorite meal, but it tastes really good. And, if I'm dying anyway, who cares about cholesterol?
Who are your favorite musicians and why?
I love a variety of types of music. My favorite band, though, is probably Fleetwood Mac. I resonate with their music and recently saw them in concert. They have a way of playing with my emotions as I'm listening to their songs. I've been known to listen to Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire quite a bit, too, in my younger days.
What's the happiest memory of your life?
The happiest memory of my life is my wedding. Neither my parents nor my spouse's parents necessarily agreed with our lifestyle; however, all came together for acceptance and to show their love for us. There has only been good memories with both families since then.
What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?
My first job was bagging groceries at a grocery store in my hometown. I think I probably made somewhere around $5.15 an hour.