She hears it all the time:
“Hey Officer Sherry!”
Doesn’t seem to matter where she is.
“Hey Officer Sherry!”
She even heard it recently when she made a rare visit to Fashion Island in Newport Beach:
“Hey Officer Sherry!”
Everyone, it seems, knows Sherry Hess.
Everyone, that is, with a Garden Grove connection.
Hess, a farm girl from Shelbyville, Ind., has endeared herself to countless children, educators and community members as a Crime Prevention Officer for the Garden Grove Police Department.
Since 2007, Hess’ non-sworn job has been engaging members of the community with the police department through Neighborhood Watches, Business Watches, residential and business security inspections, kids programs and much more.
Hess especially has made a big impact on elementary school kids with her monthly newsletter “Ask Officer Sherry,” a colorful, two-page handout filled with tips about such topics as safely walking to school, protecting oneself online and avoiding bullying.
“We just delivered the last issue,” Hess said Tuesday — a day before she retired, at age 65, from her full-time position at the Garden Grove PD.
Yes, Officer Sherry is calling it a career.
Serving as a CSO was the best job she ever had, she said.
It’s a job that combined her love for children and lifelong desire to be a nurse or teacher — positions she never formally held, but whose duties as a self-described “mother hen” she often carried out.
Hess took a serpentine path becoming Officer Sherry.
Here’s a woman, after all, who once drove Paul Newman’s beloved Lola racing car after being the first to qualify in a contest held by the late celebrity.
Yes, Officer Sherry used to race cars.
“I drove it about 10 laps around the track,” she recalls.
Officer Sherry also used to be quite a dancer.
She didn’t inherit her mother Ruth’s instrument-playing ability, but she sure could cut a rug. Hess was a regular at popular dancing spots in Orange County in the 1980s.
She decided not to pursue a professional dancing career late in high school after her father, Walter “Andy” Anderson Jr., who worked as a custodian for the Garden Grove School District, frowned on her going to New York City for an audition.
In fact, he never told her about the audition until after the fact.
“I understood why he would be concerned,” Hess says.
Hess went to college to become a teacher.
But because the job market for teachers was poor at the time, she ended up working several years in the insurance business, followed by a management stint at Sparkletts, while raising two boys, now 40 and 36 (Hess has a 13-year-old granddaughter).
In 2002, Hess became a full-time employee of the Garden Grove PD as a Records specialist.
When an opening came in the Community Liaison Division for a CSO in 2007, Hess jumped at the opportunity.
Her idea to launch “Ask Officer Sherry” was embraced by then-Chief Joe Polisar and has been supported by his successors, Kevin Raney and Todd Elgin.
But along with Hess, the publication will be retired.
Hess personally delivered the newsletter to schools each month and then went over safety tips with kids in their classrooms or at after-school programs run by such non-profit organizations as the Boys and Girls Clubs or Project Access, which operates Family Resource Centers for low-income families.
On March 31, the day before she retired, Hess visited the Maladar Apartments, on Bixby Avenue, to say goodbye to kids she has watched grow up in a Project Access after-school program.
“Hey Officer Sherry, I thought you retired!” one boy greeted her.
“No,” she said. “That’s tomorrow!”
She asked what the kids would be doing during Spring break, then asked them to recall safety tips she has taught them.
Tiny arms shot up.
Wear a helmet while riding a bike.
Look both ways before crossing a street.
Stay in school and make good choices.
The kids tossed out these and other tidbits.
“Everybody is worth the same,” Officer Sherry told the kids. “Nobody in this world is worth more than anyone else.”
Elizabeth Mejia, service coordinator for the Project Access Family Resource Center at Malabar Apartments, said Officer Sherry has done much to change children’s perception of cops.
“I think she makes the kids feel safer,” Mejia said. “A lot of kids are afraid of police officers, but in her they see a friendly face. They can’t wait to see her.”
It was time for Officer Sherry to go.
“I love you all and I’m going to miss you,” she told the kids.
Later, she explained: “I talk with kids. I don’t talk at kids.”
Then she braced for her last day at the PD, telling herself she wouldn’t cry.
“I will miss this job,” Officer Sherry said. “It was my passion. It never seemed like a job to me.”