One thing that hasn’t changed since Mary Kay Swires started as a meter maid in 1978 is her employer.
After 42 years working for the Boonville Police Department, Swires is set to retire as a dispatcher at the end of November. The department is hosting a retirement reception from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday at the department.
Swires grew up in Boonville and spent a few years in Sedalia after attending State Fair Community College there. She came back home in 1978 and applied for the job with the police department.
Their first choice was a woman who had already been working at the department, so Swires almost didn’t get the job, she said. Something didn’t work out, and Swires ended up with the meter maid position. “When they had the parking meters downtown that you plugged in with your nickels and your quarters,” she said.
Working for Boonville has been an important part of Swires’ family. Her father, Melvan Cauthon Jr., worked for the city for 35 years, starting as a sanitation worker, rising to chief operator of the city’s wastewater plant and later serving on the city council. Her brother, M.L. Cauthon, is now the city’s public works director.
When Swires started, she worked parking enforcement during the week, then covered a lot of Sunday dispatching shifts. After about a year, she moved over to the midnight to 8 a.m. dispatching shift for two months before taking the evening 4 p.m. to midnight shift. She stayed on that shift until 2012, when the day shift became available.
Before 911, Boonville Police Department dispatchers took the emergency calls and dispatched officers. Now, 911 dispatches the officers, but once a Boonville police officer takes a call, they’re in the hands of the department’s dispatcher.
When Swires takes a call, she starts an incident log in the department’s computer system. Everything has to be noted and logged, she said. The job isn’t just dispatching, she also takes calls to the police department and works with people who come into the office.
“You either do nothing or you do everything,” Swires said. “There’s times that are pretty quiet, and there’s times you have an officer on the radio, someone calling on the phone and someone showing up at the door needing some assistance.”
Swires has learned that keeping calm is the key is tense situations. When someone comes in who is angry or upset, remaining calm can help them calm down, too. She’s tried to just do what she’s supposed to — let them vent and get basic information before they speak to an officer.
“It’s not personal, because they don’t know me from Adam,” she said. “It’s just the situation.”
Swires said she’s enjoyed the people with whom she has worked and helping people in her job, she said.
“Sometimes you see people when they’re at their worst, but other times you see people who just need to know that somebody is there to help them,” she said.
Swires doesn’t have many plans for her retirement, she said. She wants to spend
more time with her husband and find some time to declutter things she’s accumulated over the years. She’s also looking forward to not waking up at 4 a.m. every day, she said.