Some 60 residents contributed to a makeover at Ernie Griffin's home in the 1300 block of Osage Street in Independence. Griffin, a retired Jackson County sheriff’s deputy, will be going home to his newly remodeled house after surgery to amputate his left leg.

On Sunday, Ernie Griffin will be coming home.

But it will be a very different house from the one he left about a month ago.

Some 60 residents contributed to a makeover at his home on the 1300 block of Osage Street in Independence. Griffin, a retired Jackson County sheriff’s deputy, will be going home to his newly remodeled house.

“When I get home, I’m going to cry like a baby,” Griffin says.



A health scare

Griffin is diabetic. Last March, problems arose in his left leg. His doctor discovered veins in the leg were shot. An ulcerated sore developed as a result.

Surgery soon followed. But an infection developed in the bone after the surgery.

“I had been fighting it (the leg) for six months,” Griffin says.

The infection made him feel weak and fatigued. And the infection was severe. His doctor told him the grim news: The leg needed to be removed below the knee.

“It was three days before Christmas when they whacked my leg off,” Griffin says.

 He was taken to the John Knox Village facility in Lee’s Summit for physical therapy. He’s been going through daily rehabilitation for the last 30 days.

Griffin is not bitter or angry about losing a leg. It happens. It’s called life.

“I’ve lost a leg. Big deal,” he says. “You’ve got to work with the hand you’re dealt.”

The element of the unknown concerns Griffin as he leaves the rehabilitation facility. He prides himself on being independent. Has for all his life.

“As long as I can get around my house, I’ll be fine,” Griffin said.



Law enforcement officer

The 63-year-old Griffin retired in May after 28 years with the Sheriff’s Department, 11 with other agencies.

At the department, he was head of security at the Jackson County Courthouse Annex. He also served as head of the property crimes unit for several years. 

But the most satisfaction during his time in law enforcement was being a field training officer. Year after year, Griffin taught new deputies the ropes. He estimates he’s trained about 100 officers. Griffin forged lasting friendships. He was well respected within the department and known for his wit and compassion.

“He was a heck of a guy,” said Becky DeGroff, a deputy sheriff in the community resources department who worked with Griffin. “He would always be there and make ya laugh.”

Griffin decided to run for Jackson County Sheriff last year. But a lack of money  destroyed his chances of winning. Griffin netted 66,900 votes, however.

Law enforcement officers have plenty of stories to tell. Seasoned veterans could write a book packed with stories of human behavior. Some good, many bad. Griffin is no different.

But one story now stands out.

Griffin was dispatched to a railroad crossing. Kids were playing around the track when a train was creeping slowly down the track. He told the kids to get away.

But then he saw a man climbing on the train as it came to a stop.

He couldn’t believe it, but the man had two artificial legs. He was moving around just fine.

Griffin ordered him to get down. They started talking.

The man told Griffin he used to work for the railroad. Turns out, a train had ran over the man’s legs.

“He said of all the parts of your body the ones of least importance, he found out, were his legs because he could function without them,” Griffin says.

Griffin remembers those words.



THE REMODELING EFFORT

The house was built in 1935. Griffin was raised there and never left.

It’s about 800 square feet. But the house was crammed with numerous items. Some say it was junk; others collectibles.

Regardless, it all had to come out before the remodeling effort could commence.

“We filled two, 30-yard Dumpsters,” DeGroff says, “and a 20-yard Dumpster. And now we have another Dumpster that we’re working on.”

Next came the remodeling work.

Noal Griffin, his older brother who’s in the construction business, devised a work plan. The work included placing installation through the house, widening the doors for wheelchair access, laying new carpet in the living room and flooring in the kitchen and bathroom, hanging sheetrock, painting walls and installing new sinks and windows.

They started around New Year’s Day. Today, they will make sure the house is spotless for Griffin’s Sunday homecoming.

“We had to do this in less than a month,” DeGroff says.

Volunteers did all the work. Numerous deputy sheriffs worked countless hours, but so did a few BNSF railroad employees and members of the Midland Railway Historical Association which Griffin is a member. In fact, Sheriff Mike Sharp, the man who beat Griffin in the sheriff’s race last year, volunteered in the effort.

“This absolutely amazes me,” Griffin says. “It’s very overwhelming.”

DeGroff said: “He’s always done everything for everybody else. If one of his friends needed something, he does what he can. It was time to give back to him. This has been a blessing for Ernie and the sheriff’s department. It’s really brought a whole bunch of people together.”



HUMILITY

No one involved in the project wants to take credit for their involvement.

DeGroff called herself the spokeswoman for the volunteers even though she helped spearhead the project.

“I don’t want any credit,” she says. “This isn’t about us, this is about helping Ernie.”

But according to Griffin, it’s not about him.

“I think the main story out of this whole thing is the effort the volunteers have done with the house,” he says. “They need to be recognized.”

All the work was done through donations. From a bake sale at the Jackson County Courthouse Annex to the donations of building supplies from area hardware stores, the community gave of themselves to see the project through, DeGroff said.

Supplies totaled between $4,000 to $5,000.

Griffin says he will be having a barbecue at his house this spring or summer to thank the volunteers.