VINTON — Nearly 80 years after the death of one of its sheriffs, Benton County residents are working to ensure his memory lives on for decades to come.
The Sheriff Fry Memorial Committee — with about 10 core members — is attempting to raise $30,000 to build memorials to honor former Benton County Sheriff Leland “Sam” Fry, who was killed in the line of duty in November 1938.
“After 78 years, we think he deserves his memorial,” said Benton County Attorney David Thompson, a member of the committee.
On Nov. 4, 1938, Fry was in Garrison searching for Leak Crowe, 21, who was suspected of stealing a pair of rubber boots and fishing tackle, according to a Gazette article. When Fry entered the house where Crowe was believed to be hiding, Crowe shot the sheriff in the abdomen and then shot and killed himself.
Fry was taken to Vinton hospital, where he died the next day. He was 38.
As envisioned, the Fry memorial would have three parts:
— A bronze bust to be placed in front of the Benton County Courthouse in Vinton. Artists Brian Parr and Rick Poldberg have been commissioned to sculpt the bust. The bust would cost about $10,000, Thompson said.
— A display case for the first floor of the courthouse that would display various historic items, including Fry’s badge, which was donated by his family.
— A scrapbook that the sheriff’s wife, Hazel Fry, started in the later part of 1938, where she kept newspaper clippings, condolence cards and telegrams about her husband’s death, Thompson said.
“Just looking at it, it seems to me she wanted to document every part of it, and she wanted to let her children and grandchildren know what happened,” Thompson said.
Until recently, the book was in the possession of Jeff Raines, Fry’s grandson. The committee plans to take all of the material and create and sell a book, which would help pay for the memorial.
Thompson said the committee has raised $7,500 toward its $30,000 goal. The group hopes to complete the project by the end of 2017.
According to a 1938 Gazette article, Fry was serving his second term as sheriff and was unopposed for re-election on the Nov. 8 ballot.
After Fry’s death, county officials nominated Fry’s wife for sheriff, an idea endorsed unanimously by the Benton County Republican Central Committee.
“The committee explained that it was following a precedent set in a number of other counties where sheriffs had died in office,” a Nov. 7, 1938, Gazette story reported.
The Sheriff Fry Memorial Committee maintains Hazel Fry is the first woman in Iowa to be elected as sheriff, though no official records can confirm that.
While the planned memorial is to focus on Fry, the committee hopes it also honors any emergency responders killed in the line of duty, as well as their survivors.
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“A big reason, in my opinion, for doing this isn’t just to memorialize Sheriff Fry, but also to show gratitude to the family as well,” said Capt. Eric Dickinson of the Vinton Police Department, a committee member. “The families are the ones who are left behind.”
Committee members plan to continue to research Fry, despite some roadblocks. Some key documents are thought to have been destroyed by the Flood of 2008.
Anyone with information on Leland or Hazel Fry or those who would like to donate to the Fry memorial can contact the Benton County Attorney’s Office at (319) 472-2436.