2010 - Longtime sheriff's employee retires

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Marie Keenum retires as 911 coordinator

She was the original IT person under Sheriff Jamie Adams, instrumental in converting department records to computers and building the county’s 911 network. Marie Keenum worked for the last three sheriffs – now she is set to retire after 33 years and seven months on the job.
“Marie is an ideal employee from my perspective; she works well with other people and is the kind of person who takes on a project and works through it with minimum supervision,” said Sheriff Bill Farmer.
For her part, Keenum thinks Farmer has put the pieces together and formed a first-class law enforcement organization.
“I have known Sheriff Farmer, then just Bill to me, almost from the beginning.  He and Chief Deputy Jack Jordan with their vision for Sumter County moved the Sheriff’s Office to where it is on par or ahead of much larger law enforcement agencies,” she said.
Keenum said Farmer’s “open-door” policy allows task leaders and others to share their thoughts on various projects with decision makers.
“Just to keep the record straight, not all my suggestions were heartily embraced - some were ‘taken under advisement,’” said Keenum.
Keenum came to the U.S. from Switzerland to attend college in California where she met her husband Bob. The couple eventually married and settled in Georgia before moving to Sumter County where she launched her career with the sheriff’s office.
“Sheriff (Ernie) Johnson made all this possible by hiring me way back when the minimum wage was below $3 an hour,” said Keenum.
“Each of the three sheriff’s had the county’s interest at heart, each was unique and mentioning each name brings a smile to my face, reminding me of past experiences that may not have been funny at the time,” Keenum said.
Keenum, who started as a dispatcher in 1977, said a dispatcher’s work is at times emotionally intense. She recalled trying to help a man who had a heart attack in the middle of a stormy night before 911 and Global Positioning Systems were deployed.
Sumter County was very rural then and many residences had post office route box numbers instead of street addresses, Keenum said.
“His wife was very upset as she gave us directions and as I recall she missed a street,” said Keenum. “By the time responders got to him it was too late, he had passed away.”
As Sumter’s population increased and technology advanced, Keenum’s computer skills kept pace.   
Former Sheriff Jamie Adams said Keenum initiated and built the computer records system virtually by herself because in the early ‘80s the budget did not allow for an assistant.
Keenum began work on the Sumter County 911 emergency response project in May of 1994 after the county ordered its implementation and was instrumental in bringing the system to fruition two years later.
“We began purchasing computers and other items from Radio Shack around 1983 and Marie created a computerized record system from scratch,” said Adams. “She worked for me for 16 years, but I recognized her skills early on. She worked on implementing the 911 emergency system for two years, and when we flipped the switch, it worked,” he said.
Keenum recognized when personal computers were first introduced that they would ultimately change the way information was collected and shared within the department and she was eager to be a part of that challenge and change. 
 “I think when people entrust something of great importance in you, it makes you want to work hard,” said Keenum. “We were receiving and transmitting files and information was flowing much faster. It was a very interesting and exciting being the first IT person at the sheriff’s office. 
“Sometimes when people would complain about working with computers I would ask them if they would rather file thousands of 3x5 index cards,” said Keenum. “That was the way we kept many of our records before computers.”
Keenum is busy making retirement plans that will fill her days after leaving the sheriff’s office, including the following:
“I am looking forward to having lunch with my husband Bob, seeing more of my little grandchildren Carmen and Gage and having occasional visits and lunches with my other granddaughter Ashley who is a student at the University of Florida. 
“It goes without saying that I love my children, Jackie and Wes, I hope to share more family dinners and have time to listen to what is important in their lives.
“I have had a Bucket list for years. On top of the list is a four-day Grand Canyon hiking trip with Ashley after her graduation from UF.