For nearly four decades, Gary Zornes has worked to serve and protect the north King County and the greater Kenmore area as a deputy for the King County Sheriff’s Office.
But come the end of the year, he will be hanging up his badge and uniform to retire from a law enforcement career that began in 1980.
Zornes, whose final shift will be Christmas, had always been interested in the law growing up and decided on the law enforcement route rather than becoming lawyer because he thought it would be a challenging and exciting field.
While this may be Zornes’ story, his father joked at his son’s retirement party last week at Kenmore City Hall that it was because becoming a lawyer would require reading. The statement was met with laughs from the room of law enforcement officers (active and retired), first responders, community members and Zornes’ family and friends.
Zornes’ career with KCSO has included serving as a school resource officer for Kenmore Middle School (formerly Kenmore Junior High School) and Inglemoor High School for 21 years — a role he retired from in June.
IHS principal Vicki Sherwood said it was a sad day for their school when Zornes, who would also go into the classroom to teach lessons, left.
“The kids felt really comfortable around him,” she said, adding that students felt they could turn to Zornes if they had a problem.
And if he needed to be brought in to help with a disciplinary issue, Sherwood said with a smile that she would get to play the good cop to his bad cop.
Zornes said as an SRO, he enjoyed seeing the students from the schools in the community. He made a lot of connections with not just the students, but with their families as well.
Zornes’ daughter Stephanie, who could not attend the retirement party as she now lives in Texas, wrote a piece that was read by Dwight Holmes, who used to work with Zornes at KCSO.
“As I grew up my dad becoming a cop became normal,” she wrote. “He arrested some of my friends, pulled some of my friends over, escorted friends home and what’s crazy is through all of that, all I ever heard was about how rad ‘Zornes’ was.”
She wrote that her father could have made her teenage years very difficult, but her father “is just chill and his attitude towards his job is what made (her) life easy.”
“My dad was a great cop,” Holmes read in front of the crowd.
Zornes’ role as an SRO was also helpful for his sister Cindy Waltman, whose kids also attended IHS. At the retirement party, she shared stories about how Zornes would help them if one of her kids had disciplinary issues at school or any sort of trouble in life.
“He’s a great brother,” Waltman said.
In addition to being an SRO, Zornes has worked as a master police officer since 1988. This means he would be the senior officer at a scene and handle things until a supervisor arrived.
At his retirement party, many of the active and retired law enforcement officers who spoke discussed how they looked up to Zornes.
“Gary has always been a mentor to me,” said KCSO deputy Rob Dorman.
He said Zornes showed him how to go the extra mile and get involved in the community he served.
Zornes has served the City of Kenmore before it was even a city. From the start of his career to 1998, the area he covered was just called north King County and he worked out of KCSO’s Precinct 2.
When Kenmore incorporated, the city contracted with KCSO for its law enforcement needs. Police Chief Cliff Sether said when this happened and when he was named chief, he knew exactly who he wanted to bring on board with him.
Sether said Zornes gives to the city selflessly and is a blessing for Kenmore.
For Zornes Kenmore is more than where he works. It’s home.
“This is where I want to work. This is where I want to live. This is where I want to send my daughter to school,” he said about why he chose to settle in Kenmore all those years ago. “I’ve worked here for 37 years because I like it here.”
After almost four decades at the same agency and in the same community, Zornes said what he will miss the most is the people — both those he has worked with as well as those he has served. While he addressed the crowd last week, he told them that he was blown away by the people in attendance, noting that not everyone lives locally.
And in thanking everyone, he also thanked his wife Becky Zornes, who has been with him for his entire career, for being there for their family — from birthdays, to Christmas and other special events — when he couldn’t.
In response, Becky said of her husband, “He sacrificed a lot but it was what he was willing to do…I’m very proud of this man.”
In his retirement, Gary said he and his wife will spend time traveling and he foresees trips to Texas to see their daughter and their 5-month-old granddaughter. He also anticipates working in the yard.
“(I’ll) spend time pulling weeds if it needs it,” he said.