By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – While also working full time as a Tupelo Police officer, Gale Stauffer earned his criminal justice degree.
“He went to ICC then graduated from Ole Miss,” said Stauffer’s mom, Debbie Brangenberg.
Sgt. Stauffer was killed and Officer Joseph Maher seriously injured during a shootout with a bank robbery suspect on Dec. 23.
In honor of Stauffer’s sacrifice and his commitment to education, CREATE Foundation formed the Gale Stauffer Memorial Scholarship. It was announced during an appreciation dinner for Lee County’s first responders at Summit Center on Thursday.
“We wanted a permanent reminder of what Officer Stauffer did for us,” said Greg Pirkle, chairman of the CREATE board of directors.
The scholarship will be for $10,000 a year, and Pirkle invited the business community and residents to contribute to the endowment fund. The children of Lee County’s first responders will be eligible.
“I’m so proud of this announcement,” Brangenberg said, “but it is difficult because we miss him so much.”
Stauffer’s wife, Beth Stauffer, didn’t attend the gathering, but sent a message with her husband’s partner and friend, Patrolman Clay Hassell.
“She asked if I would express my deep appreciation and gratitude for the overwhelming support she has received,” Hassell said.
Some 150 people gave a standing ovation to Stauffer’s family, as well as Officer Maher and his family.
Most of the people standing were, themselves, saluted throughout the event, which was meant to honor those who dedicate their lives to protecting others.
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said it’s easy to take first responders for granted, but when residents are seeking shelter from a storm, that’s when police officers, emergency personnel and firefighters go to work.
“They’re there regardless of the elements when we need them,” Shelton said.
Darrell Rankin, president of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, thanked those who “put that suit on, you strap it on and make yourself ready for the challenges of the day.”
He mentioned the police officer who responded to the shooting in downtown Nettleton that left three people dead on Wednesday.
“It reminds us of the heroes who are among us,” he said.
David Rumbarger, president of the Community Development Foundation, said that since his son has become a police officer, he’s learned what other families go through when someone they love willingly puts himself or herself in harm’s way.
He said he’s also learned that first responders form tight bonds and their coworkers become a second family.
In that spirit, he asked everyone in the room to hold hands and form a circle, then he prayed that God would protect those who protect everyone else.