By GARY POPP
CLARK COUNTY —
While many boys aspire to grow up to be “just like dad,” few end up literally walking the same path as Bo Spainhour has with his father, Mac Spainhour.
Bo, 26, accepted a job with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in 2009, less then two years before Mac, 52, retired as conservation officer after more than 27 years of service in 2011.
“As of right now, other than marrying my wife, it has been the greatest decision I’ve ever made in my life,” Bo said.
Mac said when his son first told him he wanted to become a conservation officer, commonly called a CO, he initially had a few reservations.
“When he came up to me and told me he wanted to be a CO, I was kind of like, “Are you kidding?,” Mac said. “Dads are dads, and we all kind of think a lot alike. You want what is best for your kids. I was thinking he could do something else, he could make a little more money, or he could impact something, I don’t know.”
It wasn’t long after Bo shared his newfound ambition with his father, however, that Mac would give him his full support.
“I told him, ‘I’m not going to stand in your way,’” Mac said. “But, if you are going to do it, you have to give it your all.”
And that is exactly what Bo did.
READY FOR THE CALL
The year Bo entered the DNR recruit program, he was one of five CO sons vying for a position.
“The process of becoming a CO is very difficult, and I told him early on not to get his hopes too high,” Mac said.
While Bo was going through the training, Mac said he told his son to “Keep your mouth shut. Do as many push ups as you can. And, try to stay under the radar.”
By the end of the recruitment program, through sheer will to succeed, Bo was the only recruit with a parent in the agency left, and as far as staying under the radar, that was a little difficult for the son of an officer who was well known to the academy staff.
Bo later graduated from the various training academies and was placed in Marion County to work as a conservation officer.
“When he made it, we were obviously very, very proud,” Mac said.
As Bo was getting settled in Marion County, Mac was working in Clark County, but would soon prepare to retire from state service. When Mac left the agency, 820 was his radio call number, which he said is determined by the district a CO is assigned.
Mac said toward the end of his career with DNR, he was cleaning out his truck and giving Bo some of his work materials that he no longer needed and didn’t have to return to the state.
“All the stuff had 820 on it, and I said [to Bo], “Well, you are going to have to scratch this out someday and probably have to put on another number,” Mac said.
But Bo never scratched out the call number on the DNR items, as he was soon transferred to work in Clark County, and the new number he was assigned was the same number that had been his father’s for nearly 30 years.
HELP FROM DAD
The veteran officer, it turns out, had plenty of tips for his son.
“My advice was to treat everybody the way you want to be treated,” Mac said. “People that break the law know they are breaking the law, for the most part, and there is a chance to be caught, but treat everyone with respect.”
Mac said he continues to impress upon his son the importance of being proactive in the community he serves and to get to know the people in the area he patrols. He tells Bo when he is in rural parts of the county he should stop and introduce himself to the farmer mending a fence, and return later with a fellow CO to introduce him to the farmer.
“It is about being part of the community,” Mac said.
Mac said he also stresses to Bo the value of working diligently at his duties and that a strong work ethic will help him to more easily be part of the law enforcement community.
“It doesn’t matter if your uniform is blue, brown or green,” Mac said. “A hard-working police officer can recognize a hard-working police officer.”
What has certainly been passed down from father to son is the love of working for the DNR.
“If God swooped down right now and said, ‘Mac, we are going to start you all over, age 22. You can have any job you want.’ I would say ‘conservation officer,’” Mac said. “And, there is not a lot of people who can say they would do that.”
And there is really no wonder why the Spainhours share a passion for the job.
While most people punch a clock to work eight hours in front of a glowing monitor, the Spainhours’ office includes 27,000-acre Clark State Forest, Falls of the Ohio State Park, Charlestown State Park, Deam Lake State Recreation area and several nature preserves, and that’s just Clark County.
While Bo said he has enjoyed being a CO, he, and his wife, are learning what Mac has known for a long time — that the career requires sacrifice. Both men said conservation officers are sometimes called out to suddenly leave an event or a family meal to respond to a call.
Mac said his wife and Bo’s mother, Shelli Spainhour, has been a great partner who has understood the sometimes difficult nature of the work. And Shelli, who worried about the safety of her husband for several decades, now has to worry about her son for several decades more.
Bo, who also has started teaching traffic-stop strategy and tactics classes at law enforcement academies, said his caring, and sometimes worried, mother has reminded him, “You need to be really careful because there is no such thing as a typical traffic stop”, to which he replies, “I know, mom. I am a traffic-stop instructor.”
Mac said some of the people who he built relationships during his career now approach him to say they feel comfortable that his son is the person filling his shoes.
“I am very proud that he is doing what he is doing,” Mac said. “But, I am more proud of him for being the officer that he is.”