When John Irons joined the Stillwater Police Department in 1974, he didn’t do it to blaze a trail or break a color barrier. But that's exactly what he did, becoming the department’s first African American commissioned officer.
“I didn’t see anything like that,” he said. “I was just joining the police department … We have a very diverse department (now).”
Irons would go on to have a 46-year career with SPD, working on both the commissioned and civilian sides, but always focusing on serving the community and ensuring its safety.
He served in the U.S. Army as a military policeman in Vietnam and says he was drawn to continuing in that type of work after his enlistment ended. Irons grew up in California, but his parent had ties to Langston. They returned to the Stillwater area to care for family and he followed them when he got back stateside.
Charlie Wren, a Stillwater police officer who lived across the street from the Irons family, told John the department was hiring. The rest is history.
Irons joined the department as a patrolman in 1974. In 1980, he moved to the motorcycle patrol.
Over the years, he would be promoted to Patrol Supervisor, Traffic Coordinator and Staff Services Training Sergeant. He achieved the rank of Lieutenant before his first retirement in 2001.
Irons then moved to the civilian side, serving as the supervisor and administrator of the Stillwater Municipal Jail for almost 19 more years.
He’s seen a lot of change in the city and the police department during the 46 years he served the residents of Stillwater. Irons likes what he sees and says he was always proud to be part of the Stillwater Police Department.
“To see Stillwater grow, the growth it has, the type of officers we have and the type of administration we have,” he said. “I was able to have a jail that was top-notch and keep everybody safe, keep the prisoners safe … I had a responsibility. We all did. I took it seriously in all that I did.”
Irons officially retired from the City of Stillwater for the second time on Dec. 31.
It’s special and says something about your employer when you can leave after 46 years with a smile on your face, he said. He hopes to continue serving the community in other ways now that he's truly retired.
He also plans to spend more time cruising on his Honda Goldwing trike motorcycle with his wife, Shawn.
Irons was honored during a Jan. 13 City Council meeting where Police Chief Jeff Watts presented him with a plaque marking his years of service.
“The City of Stillwater is eternally grateful to John for 46 years of dedicated service to the citizens of Stillwater,” Watts said as the audience expressed their thanks with applause.