Man of Many Talents
Former Hendricks County Sheriff, Tom Underwood, Reflects On His Unique Career
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography provided by Underwood Family
Tom Underwood was 23 years old and a trooper with the Indiana State Police when he was drafted in 1959 into the U.S. Army where he spent two years in Bamberg, Germany, with the 15th Infantry, part of the 3rd Army Division. This was during the Cold War, and Underwood was stationed on the border between West and East Germany. He and his unit did training to keep everyone combat ready. At times they worked border patrol, securing bridges in the event of an attack. They also offered support in demolitions when bridges needed to be blown up.
“Germany was still in reconstruction after World War II. It was interesting to see the reclamation that was taking place,” Underwood says. “The German citizens were thankful for the soldiers’ help in getting them reestablished.”
Underwood and his wife, Abby, lived off the military base with a German family until 1961. Before returning home, however, he and his young bride traveled to Paris to sightsee. One day they went to the top of the Eiffel Tower when Abby turned to her husband and asked, “Why can’t we see the Eiffel Tower from here?”
Underwood deadpanned, “I guess we’re looking in the wrong direction.”
“It was one of those moments I’ll never forget,” he says. “We got a good kick out of that.”
After returning stateside, Underwood resumed his career as a police officer, serving as an Indiana State trooper for 25 years. After retiring from the police force, he became the Chief Deputy of the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Department for the next seven years before serving one term as the Sheriff of Hendricks County from 1991-1994.
“Being a cop was an interesting career,” says Underwood, noting the difference in duties between the two parallel careers. As an Indiana state trooper, he was doing mostly road patrol, answering calls for service on the highway (remember, this was all pre-cell phone). His role as sheriff required him to transport prisoners, serve warrants and deal with the courts. As Chief Deputy of the Sheriff’s Department, Underwood was in charge of setting up patrol areas for deputies so that they could cover the county. He also was responsible for feeding the prisoners — a task that fell to his wife.
“Abby became the matron of the prison,” Underwood says. “She ordered the food, took care of the cooks and fed the prisoners.”
“I wanted my prisoners to have the opportunity to attend church if they wished,” Underwood says. “Ministers of all different denominations rotated through each week.”
Despite their reasons for being jailed, Underwood had empathy for these men, many of whom were remorseful and desperately wanted to turn their lives around.
“Some of these guys were first-time offenders, and when they got arrested, to them, all hope seemed lost,” Underwood says. “I wanted them to have the chance to find that hope through church and counseling.”
After his term as sheriff ended, Underwood decided it was time to once again switch gears. He got his real estate license in 1994 and has been selling houses ever since. He chose this new career because he still wanted to serve the public in some capacity.
“I love that I’m still able to help people find security and happiness,” says Underwood, who managed Carpenter Realtors in Plainfield for 14 years until he stepped down from the position last August. Though he still works in sales, at 82, he felt it was time he slowed down.
“Honestly, I don’t feel that old,” Underwood says. And it’s no wonder as he still keeps active tending to his vegetable garden that’s brimming with tomatoes, cabbage, radishes, onions, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans and sweet corn. In addition, although he hadn’t ridden a bicycle for 45 years, he recently took up riding the Vandalia Rail Trail with his neighbor.
“I told him to stay behind me so he could call 911 should I fall off,” Underwood jokes. “The first couple of trips out, I took up most of the width of the trail just trying to keep my balance, but I haven’t fallen.”
Underwood, who grew up in Coatesville, attended Amo High School (now transformed into a grade school).
“If you’ve ever seen the movie Hoosiers, my teammates and I lived that before the film was ever made,” says Underwood, noting that in 1953, during his senior year, there were 13 schools in Hendricks County. That year the Amo High School basketball team won the sectional tournament and advanced to regionals, which was played at the Butler Fieldhouse.
“We won the afternoon game, and in the evening, we played Crispus Attucks, which had a well-known basketball team in Indy at the time,” Underwood says. In fact, one of the players on that team was Hallie Bryant, who went on to play professional ball, was a Harlem Globetrotter and was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
“We lost that game, but oh, what a memory,” says Underwood, who also has many great memories of time spent with his beautiful wife, whom he married in 1958 when he was 23 years old. Abby passed away in 2014, after 56 years of marriage.
“Without her, I would not have made it through life,” Underwood says. “She was so supportive of my career choices and changes.”
The pair met at a drive-in root beer stand in Greencastle. After they wed, she worked as a clerk for the state police force in Putnamville. She’s the one who convinced Underwood to apply to become a state trooper.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself,” says Underwood, who at the time was employed at a brass factory on the west side of Indianapolis. The couple went on to have a son, Tim, and daughter, Kim, both of whom also pursued careers in law enforcement. They both work at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Plainfield. Tim has three daughters: Amanda, Kayla and Jenna. A fun fact is that Underwood’s oldest granddaughter, Amanda, now teaches fourth grade at Amo Elementary (Underwood’s former high school).
After Abby died, her Boston Terrier, Bridget, didn’t quite know what to do with herself. Underwood could empathize, as he felt lost, too. Bridget was in the habit of sitting on Abby’s lap every day. For months after Abby’s passing, the dog sat beside Underwood’s chair. Finally, one day she hopped up onto his lap. And together, they began to heal.
An active member of the New Winchester Christian Church, located in western Hendricks County, Underwood plans to continue working for as long as he physically can.
“As long as I have people who want me to list or sell their property, I’ll do it,” he says. “I like taking care of things. And I truly enjoy people. Each morning I thank the Lord that I get to experience another day.”