COLUMBIA (WACH) -- A long-time Richland County chaplain got a surprise retirement party Thursday at the Sheriff's Dept.
Gene Harper thought he was stopping by the dept. headquarters on the way to lunch when he walked in to a room full of supporters.
Sheriff Leon Lott gave Harper a medal and Chaplain Emeritus award.
Lott says Harper was the department's very first chaplain, and with the emeritus award, he will also be its last.
Harper had served with the Richland County Sheriff's Dept. for 17 years before retiring due to physical limitations.
Harper says the most important part of being a chaplain is listening.
"We don't try to convert anybody," said Harper. "We just want to be there for them. They have a rough life, and we want them to know that we support them and care about them."
Harper says he started the department's chaplain program with three others. Now it has grown to about 14 chaplains and one on call 24/7.