Following an infamous 1912 assasination attempt, President Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”
Roosevelt spoke for 90 minutes after getting shot and carried the bullet in his chest for the rest of his life.
Roosevelt and Ashland City Commissioner Kevin Gunderson have something in common.
A bullet couldn’t take down Gunderson, either.
On Tuesday, Gunderson became the first Kentuckian to receive the prestigious Theodore Roosevelt Police Award for his decades of continued public service despite being shot in the line of duty as a 24-year-old Ashland police officer.
“He meets all the criteria,” said retired Ashland Police Chief Ron McBride, who nominated Gunderson for the award.
“Kevin has shown great courage as a police officer before he was ever injured, he was a leader in the police department, informally, there is no question in my mind had he been healthy and remained on the job he’d be a chief of police now. No question about that.
“There is no question from the moment he was injured to this very second he has never weakened in his resolve to move forward, and that is exactly what the Teddy Roosevelt award is about: facing adversity, overcoming that adversity and moving forward for the common good, and Kevin has moved forward for the common good.”
Not to be deterred from his passion to serve his hometown, Gunderson launched a new career as a police dispatcher and went on to be elected 10 times to the city commission, serving as mayor pro tem, and sitting on the board of directors for numerous other regional public entities.
“That bullet did not kill his spirit or his love for this community. Kevin has an indomitable spirit. If I know Kevin, he would want it to be known that we are not limited by what we can’t do, but instead defined by what we can do. I would say that is what you call heart. That is what you call guts. President Roosevelt had it. Kevin Gunderson has it,” said Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a personal friend of Gunderson’s and Kentucky’s chief law enforcement officer.
Conway traveled from Frankfort to Ashland to present Gunderson the award at ceremony attended by dozens at the city building.
In receiving the award, Gunderson joins a list of about 150 law enforcement officers from 15 urban areas across the country to receive the accolade, which was established in 1983 in recognition of Roosevelt’s lifelong admiration for police officers. Roosevelt, who overcame physical handicaps in youth, served as president of the Board of Police Commissioners of New York City from 1895 to 1897.
McBride noted Gunderson’s injury helped to put into motion changes to policing that no doubt has saved many lives.
“It has inspired a change in how police officers think about safety,” McBride said. “We now have a culture in law enforcement that is budding toward safety, and the best example in all the United States is the Ashland Police Department. Last year they had no police officers injured on the job. That is absolutely phenomenal,” he said.
State Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, also praised Gunderson, calling him “a true American hero.
“At a time when we need heroes, you are looking at one right here,” he said. “He knows no levels. He knows no bounds.”
“I’m so honored,” said Gunderson, accepting the award. “I’m very flattered by this,” he added later, explaining his admiration for one of America’s most esteemed leaders.
“Teddy Roosevelt is the founder of workers’ compensation, something I ended up in the state Supreme Court over, and was police commissioner of New York City prior to being president. He is one of our four presidents on Mount Rushmore.”
Gunderson was given a bronze bust of the 26th president, as well as a medal and a check for $500 from the foundation to donate to a charity of his choice.
Ever the public servant, he turned the check over at the ceremony to the Ashland Board of Education to be used for the Putnam Stadium Restoration project.
“At some point, Putnam Stadium has touched every Ashlander at some point in their life. I remember going there as a youngster, still go, and I never played football,” he said.
“Helping people,” said Gunderson, is what drives his passion for public service. “Seeing wrong-doing — I don’t like that. I think public service is still an honor,” he said.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.