Eric Walton, then an 18-year-old senior at Monroe High School, already knew his career path.
He wanted to be a police officer, the same profession he dreamed about since he was old enough to walk.
“I was always impressed with the camaraderie, the closeness of everybody in the police department,” said Walton, a third-generation police officer. “Police are the heroes, the guys who go on the front line every day and keep us safe. I was fascinated with that job.”
So when Monroe announced it was looking for two police cadets in 1991, Walton applied and was interviewed by then-City Manager Seth Johnston. When Johnston asked Walton what college he attended and was told he was in high school, Johnston gave him a long look.
“This is what I want to do for a living,” Walton told the puzzled city manager. “This is where I want to be.”
Finally, Johnston relented, with one stipulation: Walton had to show his report card every semester, and if he had one grade lower than a C, he was out of the cadet program.
That was 28 years ago, and Walton has been making the grade ever since.
Walton, 46, recently retired from the Monroe Police Department because of health reasons, ending a long run of public safety service for his family. His grandfather, Bob Walton, father, Chuck Walton, and uncle, Bob Walton, all were police officers and served Butler County a combined 100 years.
The family legacy may continue because Eric Walton’s son, Jake, 20, is working toward his criminal justice degree.
As a cadet, Walton was required to ride with a police officer 16 hours per month. He averaged close to 200 hours per month. He either was in school, in bed, or in a cruiser. Sometimes officers picked him up at his house after school, then dropped him off before 10 p.m., his school night curfew set by his mother.
“Couldn’t get enough,” he said.
After graduating from Monroe in 1992, Walton entered the police academy and graduated a few days before his 21st birthday and three days after his first child was born. He eventually was promoted to sergeant, and he never left Monroe.
He called being a police officer “the greatest profession in the world” because one minute you’re chasing a suspect, then if that person gets injured, you administer medical assistance.
“You’re a hero, a protector,” he said. “You’re a father figure, a guardian, a minister, a psychologist. You wear many hats.”
Being a police officer wears on your family’s life. His wife, Cathy, 46, said countless times she cooked dinner, family meals that were delayed because of her husband’s work schedule. He missed birthdays and holidays. As their two children became active in school, it was her responsibility to get them to their practices and games.
That was the easy part.
“There is a lot of worry, obviously,” she said.
She fell asleep every night listening to the police scanner, hoping and praying never to hear a Signal 99, officer needs assistance.
Her husband was only involved in one minor car accident, and he never fired his service weapon.
His biggest health risk occurred last year when he had a stress heart attack while sitting on his porch in the backyard of his Middletown home. He got up from his chair, blacked out, fell to the floor. His wife took him to Atrium Medical Center where tests revealed his left ventricle wasn’t pumping properly.
He was prescribed medications and went through cardiac rehabilitation.
But he never “fully recovered,” he said.
So he decided it was time to retire. As he attended his retirement party, Walton thought about all the fellow police officers who were gunned down during his career, and how his family, friends and co-workers could have been attending his funeral, not his farewell.
Tears filled his eyes that day.
Then his mind flashed back to 2011, the year his daughter, Alyssa, now 25, graduated from Middletown Christian. She played on the softball team that her father coached. The team won the league that year, and after the last game of the season, Walton said several of his players were balling during a team huddle.
He remembered a quote he had read once: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Those words came in handy that day on the diamond and also on his final day as an officer.
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