Someone once told me that in northern Ohio ice cream is religion.
That might sound utterly silly to city mice, but if there is one thing I know it’s that in the rural parts, ice cream always follows life’s big benchmarks.
Think about it. Where do you take Little Leaguers after winning the game? Ice cream.
Where do jayvee offensive linemen bring their first dates? Ice cream.
Where do you go after high-school band concerts? What do you eat at the county fair? What do you serve with your birthday cake?
It doesn’t matter what the question is, the correct answer is always ice cream.
Geauga County, Ohio, happens to be a leader on the American ice cream front. Recently the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation held a statewide ice cream battle to locate the best ice cream in the Buckeye State. Geauga County ranked in the top five.
The King Kone ice cream stand became the pride of the county by earning fourth place in the state. The owners, Gail and Mitch Hewitt, opened their salt-of-the-earth business eight years ago. Their slogan was simple:
“May all your memories be sweet.”
Geauga County is your classic pie slice of Americana, with roughly 400 square miles of hayfields, small townships, pickups, and shiploads of annual rain. Geauga County receives more rainfall than any county in northern Ohio; nearly four feet per year.
Population-wise, Geauga is tame; about 94,000 folks. Twenty percent of the county is Amish. The other 80 percent is currently stuck in standstill traffic behind a horse-drawn carriage.
Also, Geauga County was home to one of the great ice cream connoisseurs of our time.
His name was Dan McClelland. Dan passed away last Wednesday from a brain tumor, but you would have liked Dan. Everyone did.
He was 67, nice looking, with an easy smile, and a deep affection for his grandchildren, dogs, and the national pastime of sweetened frozen dairy products.
“Dan believed that you could never have too much ice cream,” said his family. Which is why Dan often took his grandkids for cones twice in the same day.
Dan was the sheriff of Geauga County for nearly 14 years.
It should be noted here that a semi-rural sheriff is not your average guy. Sheriffing is a totally different ballgame out in the hinterlands.
In huge cities you have law-enforcement officials who specialize in everything. You have traffic-enforcement cops, crash-investigation cops, property-crime experts, homicide investigators, and someone whose sole job is making the Folgers.
But in the sticks, on any given night, an officer is expected to deal with everything from fatal wrecks to complaints about a dog pooping in the neighbor’s yard.
A small-town sheriff goes to a high-school football game and knows everyone in the bleachers. People seated nearby will be those the sheriff has dealt with professionally, such as victims, witnesses, suspects, or teenagers morally opposed to using their brakes at stop signs. Simply put, sheriffing is tough work.
But serving the county was in Dan’s DNA. Whether it was dealing with fender benders or giving speeches at the county fair before the apple pie contest, he was just good at his job. Dang good.
To his coworkers he was a man who made hard decisions. To lawbreakers, he was fair; the kind of guy who could appear on your doorstep to arrest you, then help put away your groceries before he took you away.
To those in his hometown, he was a soothing voice during the aftermath of a school shooting in 2012 which resulted in six students getting shot.
And of course, Dan was also a dog guy.
Enter Midge. Dan’s 16-year-old Chihuahua-rat terrier mix, Midge, looked like your basic lapdog at first glance. But she was no froo-froo animal. Midge was a drug-sniffing, bad-guy-finding K-9 machine who just happened to resemble the spokes-animal for Taco Bell.
Midge and the sheriff were tight. Wherever the sheriff went, Midge rode shotgun. Schoolchildren worshipped Midge. Journalists made Midge famous, deeming her the world’s smallest law-enforcement dog. People wanted their pictures taken with Midge. Midge was Elvis.
She was Dan’s faithful girl, and the old dog proved it last Wednesday when, only hours after her venerable sheriff died, Midge died peacefully after him.
And when they bury her beside him, her unswerving loyalty will be proven once more.
So if you happen to be passing through Chardon, Ohio, this week, you might notice something taking place at the funeral home on South Street that will look a little unusual to big-city eyes.
You will probably see people crowded in the parking lot, wearing their Sunday best, loosening neckties, smiling, and holding waffle cones wrapped in soggy napkins. You will see kids with vanilla on their cheeks. You will see double scoops. And metric tons of sprinkles.
Then you’ll see the King Kone ice cream truck serving the finest ice cream in Ohio. And it will all make sense.
Although this funeral tableau you’re seeing will have nothing to do with ice cream, nor with sprinkles. Not really.
The hometown scene merely represents the hallowed memory of a good man who served Geauga County for 44 years before traveling to the faraway firmament where all beautiful sheriffs go.
May Dan sleep in perfect peace. May Midge remain beside him. And may all their memories be sweet.