You could call Gary Launderville one tough lawman.
The Buena Vista County sheriff in Storm Lake, Iowa, has survived high-speed chases, assault calls and an armed standoff.
None of it matched getting hit by an SUV.
He was outside his cruiser helping stranded motorists during a blizzard when it happened. He landed 20 feet from the point of impact with broken kneecaps — and was released from the hospital later that night.
But toughness isn't the reason Launderville was selected as Iowa's honoree for the first-ever Heroes Game between the Hawkeyes and the Huskers Friday at Memorial Stadium.
He was chosen because, when it comes to abused kids, Launderville has a love bigger and stronger than any offensive line or linebacker corps.
Some of the toughest things he's seen in 30 years in law enforcement are the things parents do to their kids.
He struggled to describe the physical abuse, the sexual abuse, the malnutrition, the utter neglect and abandonment.
"Conditions I wouldn't let my dog live in," he said.
Launderville and his wife, Sandy, had four children of their own, but they wanted to help the unwanted kids. So about 20 years ago, they completed foster parent training and met their first potential placement, a 2½-year-old girl.
She crawled onto Launderville's lap and told him about the ways her daddy touched her — the bad ways. Launderville went on to investigate her father, who was prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned.
That was 100 foster kids ago.
Some came to their home through the regular social service channels. Others have been emergency placements. Launderville picked up still others while he was on duty.
"There's been occasions when I have called my wife and said, 'Get a bed ready, get a bath ready, I'm bringing one home.' It seems like those calls are usually at 10 o'clock, midnight, 2 in the morning."
Nearly all the children suffer deep emotional scars and psychological problems that require professional treatment. Healing takes time.
"They always come with all this baggage, but no suitcases," Sandy Launderville said. "We have to kind of figure out what do they need and what is best for them. That's what we have to look at, what is best for them."
The couple strive to give the kids a stable home, safety and love. Otherwise, they cooperate with case workers to reunite the children with their biological parents.
It's not always easy. Not all placements mesh. Sometimes the biological parents blame the foster parents for a child's removal.
Launderville has learned over 20 years as a foster parent that most kids can recover from just about any abuse as long as they receive love. Show a kid what a family is supposed to be, and the kid will almost always respond.
The saddest, and the best, days occur when the foster children leave.
"The biggest reward is seeing the growth of the kids," he said. "When they get here, they're pretty well beaten down. By the time they leave, we see how far they've come."
But not all have left.
Not the little boy who came to them in a filthy T-shirt and shorts, the only clothes he owned. It took three baths to get him clean.
Not the little girl who came to them covered in bite marks from her mother and the mother's boyfriend.
Not the children with attention deficit, hyperactivity or attachment reactive disorder.
The Laundervilles have adopted seven of the children, which gives them 11 in total, ranging in age from 35 to 6. They don't differentiate between their biological and adopted children.
There's Raegan, Angie, J.J., Ashley, Scott, Brooke, Tyrome, Audree, Carmen, Charlotte and Faith.
Despite the hardships and the heartbreaks, Sheriff Launderville said he has no regrets about the path he's taken.
"We will never be rich financially or in worldly goods," he said. "But with the experiences we've had, we'll be the most wealthy people in the world."
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