A man who managed to become known throughout the community as both a “workaholic” and a “real family man” died Sunday night, eight years after retiring from his post as Johnson County sheriff.
Robert “Bob” Carpenter, 70, died at Mercy Hospital. He amassed nearly 40 years of service to the community through the Sheriff’s Office, including 15 years at the helm.
“Bob was very passionate about what he did … He was a workaholic,” said sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Kinney. “He was a strong leader. In a lot of aspects, he led by example.”
A lifelong resident of Johnson County, Carpenter got his start in the Sheriff’s Office as a 911 dispatcher. He went on to become a patrol deputy, a sergeant, a detective, a lieutenant and a captain before taking over as sheriff in 1989.
Carpenter retired from the Sheriff’s Office in 2004.
Kinney said he got to know Carpenter at the department after becoming a reserve deputy in 1986. When he joined the Sheriff’s Office, Kinney said, Carpenter was head of investigations.
“I felt that Bob was one of the best investigators that I had seen around,” he said. “He wouldn’t give up. And he was very thorough in everything he did.”
During his time as sheriff, friends and colleagues said Carpenter was an advocate for victims and was instrumental in getting a new rescue unit, helping to establish Johnson County’s Special Emergency Response Team an upgrading the county’s 911 system.
“He also fought to get the first K-9 dog the county had,” Kinney said, reflecting on his recent death. “This is a loss to the community.”
When Capt. Dave Wagner started at the Sheriff’s Office in 1981, he was new to town and was without family in the area. Wagner said he was promoted to sergeant under Carpenter’s administration and remembers that his “door was always open.”
“If you had a problem, you could rely on Bob Carpenter to help you out,” said Wagner, adding that to be true both professionally and personally.
Shortly after coming to the Sheriff’s Office, Wagner said, he ended up in the ditch after working a late shift at the jail and driving home in a winter storm. His vehicle was buried, and below-zero temperatures threatened to keep it out of commission indefinitely, Wagner said.
“I just remember that Bob Carpenter heard about my problem and arranged for me to get my vehicle some place where it could be thawed out and get repairs done,” Wagner said. “That was something I didn’t seek out. But if he heard about a problem, he would try and help people out.”
As dedicated as Carpenter was to his profession and the community, Wagner said, he “was a real family man.”
“Family always came first with him,” Wagner said. “If you had an emergency come up, you just knew that family came first.”
Longtime Johnson County Supervisor Pat Harney agreed, having known Carpenter since high school. Harney said he went to high school with Carpenter’s would-be wife, Sherry, at University High School while Carpenter went to Lone Tree High School.
“He was a very family-oriented individual,” Harney said. “And he was a community-oriented individual.”
As a leader with the Sheriff’s Office, Harney said, he “ran a tight ship.”
“He kept his thumb on the budget and didn’t do unnecessary expenditures,” Harney said. “He was a very determined individual in his investigation in law enforcement. He always did what he felt was right and supported his deputies.”
In response to Carpenter’s death, current Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek put out this statement.
“Yesterday, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office lost a member of our family,” he wrote. “Former Sheriff Robert Carpenter gave many years to our family while serving the citizens of Johnson County.”
Family members couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but his son-in-law David Sowers wrote this about Carpenter on his Facebook page.
“A great role model, great father, husband, grandfather and gave so much to this community as our sheriff,” Sowers wrote. “I love you Bob and cannot thank you enough for everything you’ve given to me (us) through your life. I am a better person for having had you in my life.”