The Man From Geauga County

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.

25 comments

  1. Leigh R Amiot - April 18, 2021 11:33 am

    RIP Dan and Midge. Lovely story.

    Reply
  2. Linda - April 18, 2021 12:15 pm

    We owned a Carvel stand for 27 years .
    My parents saw generations of families pass thru .
    In June of each year – we gave free ice cream cones to all children with passing report cards and made a fuss over each and every card. My parents who had 7th and 10th grade educations truly believed in education.
    We closed the night before Thanksgiving as the stand was not heated and opened in March again.
    My parents would put all the leftover quarts and pints in the deep freezer and leave the electric on until Christmas Eve .
    I’d accompany my Dad with my brothers and we’d load up our station wagon and deliver all the ice cream to the two orphanages in our little town of Peekskill , NY
    I asked my Dad why he did it and he would say that children in orphanages don’t get many treats .
    Once I discovered Ancestry I discovered that my Dad had been an orphan ….. he was very reticent about his early years …..
    My parents taught us hard work , trust, kindness , generosity, empathy but most of all Love.
    Miss you two very much , every day.
    Thanks for your memorable column today , Sean❤️

    Reply
  3. Deborah Blount - April 18, 2021 12:35 pm

    I don’t know why, but your articles tend to make my eyes leak. Allergies I would guess. That was a 😍 beautiful story.

    Reply
  4. Debbie g - April 18, 2021 12:39 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to Dan and Midge

    Reply
  5. Edwin G Staples - April 18, 2021 12:46 pm

    You have touched a lot of hearts today Sean. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  6. Alice Purim - April 18, 2021 12:54 pm

    Amen.
    It is all I can say.

    Reply
  7. Liz Watkins - April 18, 2021 1:00 pm

    Amen! RIP Sheriff and Midge!
    Blessings to all🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

    Reply
  8. Martha Owens - April 18, 2021 1:17 pm

    Rest in peace, Dan and Midge!

    Reply
  9. Marilyn - April 18, 2021 1:20 pm

    I found the obituary and you described this man as others saw him. Being from Ohio I can also vouch for the love of ice cream. Be it homemade, soft serve or the dip kind, ice cream is my favorite comfort food. RIP sheriff Dan with Midge at your side.

    Reply
  10. Peggy Thompson - April 18, 2021 1:32 pm

    Beautiful story♥️ thanks for sharing.RIP

    Reply
  11. CHARLA BIPPUS - April 18, 2021 2:38 pm

    Beautiful story. Eyes filled up for that one! Animal stories always do that to me. ❤️

    Reply
  12. Janette Anderson - April 18, 2021 3:32 pm

    Perhaps your BEST yet❣🍦

    Reply
  13. Christina - April 18, 2021 4:43 pm

    Sounds like someone incredible we know… Winston Browne?

    Reply
  14. Marianne Stoltz - April 18, 2021 4:53 pm

    Wonderful piece about a wonderful man. Dan was the catcher on my husband’s Little League team, among numerous other connections over the years.

    Reply
  15. Ann Gramlich - April 18, 2021 5:03 pm

    God Bless you Linda .!!!!

    Reply
  16. Linda Moon - April 18, 2021 5:41 pm

    I wasn’t surprised as I read about Dan to see that he was a dog guy. But then……I read that Midge died peacefully after him. My eyes weren’t expecting that, so they blurred my reading. I’ll pass Dan and Midge’s story to my family in northern Ohio. I bet their eyes will become blurry, too. May you, writer of the stories of our lives, continue to tell them. This one may be the most beautifully written of all. Maybe….but my eyes are blurry….they’re ALL beautiful, Sean Dietrich. And you are, too.

    Reply
  17. Christine - April 18, 2021 7:32 pm

    Beautiful story about ice cream, a kindhearted, loving man and his faithful dog.
    Blessings❤

    Reply
  18. Mary Lou Ramsey - April 18, 2021 9:51 pm

    I am originally from Geauga County and went to middle school with Dan. He was an outstanding person even in 7th grade. Thank you for writing about Sheriff Dan and Midge, and for your beautiful description of Geauga County. I lived in South Georgia for 20 years and now live in Columbus Ohio, but no place compares to growing up in Geauga County. Sean, I’ve been following your writing for years and was excited to see this story about my home state and county! P.S. I have been to King Kone and they have great ice cream! RIP Dan and Midge.

    Reply
  19. Tim Lawrence - April 18, 2021 10:02 pm

    Thank you Sean. That was close to home for me having grown up five miles east of the SE corner of Geauga Co. My dad bought me my first car from the Dodge dealer in Chardon. RIP Dan & Midge.

    Reply
  20. Chasity Davis Ritter - April 18, 2021 10:52 pm

    I saw their picture and story on fbook this week. Your eulogy for them brought it to life so to speak. I got leaky eyes now and I may just have to got get an ice cream in their honor later this evening. Thanks for letting more people know about these two precious souls today.

    Reply
  21. Suzanne Cahill - April 18, 2021 11:08 pm

    What a beautiful tribute. May Dan and Midge Rest in Power.

    Reply
  22. Tim House - April 19, 2021 2:50 am

    Having already posted about this, needless to say I agree. A heartwarming poignant story.

    Reply
  23. Nancy M - April 19, 2021 4:25 am

    Beautiful story! Thank you.

    Reply
  24. TK Oberholtzer - April 20, 2021 10:09 am

    What a GRAND article Sean!
    It seems to me that most “Peace Officers” and their K-9’s are of the same character of Dan and Midge.
    They are people of great stature, good and decent men and women seeking to help others.
    This history of these 2 Public Servants reminds me to be thankful of the sacrifices of those in the
    small thin “Blue Line” safeguarding and protecting the rest of us!

    Reply
  25. Dawnie B - April 21, 2021 4:59 am

    So thankful for having such a fine man & his loyal canine on duty! What a blessing he was to his community…May God bless his family on down through the generations. ❤

    Reply

Leave a Comment