Sheriff's Team of Active Retired Seniors (STARS)
By Melissa Mendonca
By Melissa Mendonca
Photo by Manda ReedTwenty years ago, at the age of 73, Elizabeth Mae Watson decided to settle down long enough to help the Tehama County Sheriff’s Department develop its new Sheriff’s Team of Active Retired Seniors (STARS) program.
“I’d been traveling for quite some time,” says Watson, noting that she got to Red Bluff from Tecumseh, Mich., in an old blue camper van that operated without a gas gauge, heater, cooler or radio. She settled in Red Bluff simply because “I got active in the senior center and never went back” to her Michigan home, where she’d retired as a rural mail carrier.
Twenty years later, Tehama STARS is celebrating a milestone anniversary and Watson is still organizing the 37 volunteers that make up the program. Sgt. Rod Daugherty of the sheriff’s department says of Watson, “She’s not a football fan, but I call her the quarterback of the organization because she’s large and in charge. And everybody knows it. She runs a tight ship.”
The STARS program was developed, says Daugherty, “to get more eyes and ears out in the county.” The department had noticed a decrease in Neighborhood Watch programs and needed a new model to employ volunteers to help with community safety.
STARS uses four patrol cars to complete house watches and neighborhood observations throughout the county, from Rancho Tehama to Lake California. “I think we would have more people going out if we had more vehicles,” says Daugherty. Adds Watson, “If anything is coming up, they call dispatch, but they don’t get involved in it.”
Watson organizes patrol shifts, house watch requests and State Theatre requests for STARS to provide event security. “It’s a great place to work,” she says. “I enjoy paperwork. I enjoy keeping that in order.”
Most recently, she had the bittersweet duty of closing out the paperwork of her friends Bud Adams and Elsie Wanless, the two remaining volunteers who helped her open the program in 1996. “They’ve been here from the beginning and Bud and Elsie didn’t know each other before they were STARS,” says Watson. “They began patrolling together and they just hit it off. They never went anyplace without the other.
“It seemed like they were together for life, the way they acted,” says Daugherty of the romance he watched blossom between Adams and Wanless.
As Adams describes it, “It didn’t take long for me to talk her into doing patrol with me as a companion. She was as interested in it as much as I was.” Adds Watson, “They wouldn’t take any time off. They were a good couple. A good couple.”
Health issues have forced the two to step down from their duties with STARS and have necessitated life in separate assisted living facilities. Adams remains in Red Bluff with his room sporting STARS memorabilia, including a shadow box of his uniform shirt and patches created by Daugherty’s team, while Wanless has moved near family in the Bay Area.
For the duration of their service, however, STARS brought them not just love, but fulfillment in civic duty. “They gave me something to do, something better to do than sitting around doing nothing,” Adams says. When he enrolled, he was a widower who was spending a lot of time at the garage of Watson’s son. “I’d always been interested in police work,” he says. “I’d seen a good opportunity to get involved. It was something that we didn’t get paid for or ever thought of getting paid for. And we never turned down what we were asked to do.”
“That was their life,” Watson says of the Thursday and Friday patrols Adams and Wanless set out on. “They enjoyed patrolling around and visiting with people.” Of course, occasionally STARS are asked to participate in other ways, and Watson smiles when she says, “They enjoyed being in the parades.”
The STARS are affiliated with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of the Corporation for National Service, organized regionally by Dignity Health. Watson helps maintain the statistics needed for the program and shows no sign of slowing down. “I just find it a very happy place to be,” she says.