Kudos to long-time Ashland City Commissioner Kevin Gunderson for becoming the first Kentuckian to receive the prestigious Theodore Roosevelt Police Award for his decades of public service that continues despite being shot in the line of duty as a 24-year-old patrolman.
Gunderson was shot on July 12, 1980, while on a supposedly “routine” assignment to serve a warrant for non-support on Jerry Ray Dyer. Dyer pulled a pistol out from under a pillow on the bed he was on and shot Gunderson in the neck.
The shooting brought a sudden end to Gunderson’s career as a police officer, but it did not end his commitment to serving this community. Now in his 10th two-year term on the Ashland Board of City Commissioners, Gunderson, 56, typically leads the ticket for the four seats on the commission. While some credited the “sympathy vote” for Gunderson’s early success in city commission races, that long ago ceased to be a factor. Gunderson keeps his seat on the commission because he does his job well. He always is well informed on the issues facing the city and is willing to listen and talk to residents about their concerns.
When the Ashland city commissioners approved the payroll tax, Gunderson was the only supporter of the tax who was re-elected by city voters. One reason is because he was always a supporter of the tax and could not be accused of “flip-flopping” on the issue, but even more important than that is that even Ashland residents who opposed the payroll tax recognized that Gunderson’s other strengths as a commissioner merited his re-election.
It was fist announced in early August that Gunderson had been chosen for the Teddy Theodore Roosevelt Police Award but the award was not presented until Gunderson’s friend and political ally, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, could come to Ashland to make the presentation.
The award was made possible by retired Ashland Police Chief Ron McBride, who was new to Ashland at the time Gunderson was shot. McBride nominated Gunderson for the award.
“Kevin had shown great courage as a police officer before he was ever injured, he was a leader in the police department, informally,McBride said. “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.”
Conway also had praise for his friend. “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.”
Gunderson joins a list of about 150 law enforcement officers from 15 urban areas across the country to receive the award, 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.”
No Ashland police officers have been victims of gunfire in the more than 32 years since Gunderson was shot. In fact, until an incident involving an attempted kidnapping and car jacking by a jail escapee just a few years ago, no Ashland police officer has even fired his or her weapon in the line of duty in more than 20 years. That’s clear evidence that Ashland police officers are able to do their jobs without being the least bit “trigger happy.”
Gunderson almost lost his life in the incident on a hot July afternoon in 1980. But he not only survived, but he continues to be a positive force in this community. He is most deserving of the award..