The 2021 Heywood Award winner is a Northfield man who has spent most of his life making the community safer.
The Defeat of Jesse James Days organizing committee on Monday identified Ray Ozmun as the recipient of the Joseph Lee Heywood Distinguished Service Award.
The award is named for the bank cashier murdered by the James-Younger gang during the famous 1876 raid commemorated each year during Northfield’s Defeat of Jesse James Days. Heywood reportedly refused to open the bank’s vault and was subsequently shot.
Although Ozmun’s life story is less famous than the James raid, it is arguably no less exciting.
As a young man, he served in the Korean War. Upon his return stateside, he worked in construction until he joined the Northfield Police Department in hopes of a more consistent paycheck.
Ozmun told the News he was still in his three-month probationary period when a phone call interrupted his meal break late one night in the spring of 1959. Ozmun was informed there was a robbery in progress at the Eagles Club, and along with a fellow officer he headed over to intervene. The pair caught up with the robbers just as they were trying to escape the Eagles Club building, and split up to chase them. Ozmun fired a shot from his service revolver as a warning, but instead of stopping, the man he was chasing turned around and shot back at him. A brief gunfight ensued near the Northfield National Bank (not to be confused with First National Bank, targeted by the James Gang). Although nobody was hurt, the robber got away, fleeing through an alley off Division Street.
“I emptied my revolver as he was running down the sidewalk, but all I got was three cars and the door to a dentist’s office,” Ozmun recalled wryly.
Ozmun said the law eventually caught up with the fugitive, who had dropped his eyeglasses at the scene and authorities traced the glasses back to him.
Ozmun went on to serve as a volunteer firefighter. Even after leaving frontline firefighting, he continued his public safety passion as a member of the Rural Fire Board for Waterford Township for almost four decades. He has been heavily involved with both the American Legion and the Sons of the American Legion, serving as the latter’s state chair since 1979.
Jerry Anderson, another Northfield native, has known Ozmun for some 60 years after meeting him in 1968 when both were firefighters.
“Ray is a very caring person, who is willing to get involved to help others,” Anderson said. “When something is needed, he quietly steps forward. He’s terribly well connected, and he uses these connections to help better the community.”
Anderson described Ozmun as a true Northfield “townie” — a term Ozmun also applied to himself. Not only do Ozmun and his wife Mary live in the area, but so do his three children and seven grandchildren, he said.
“I was baptized and confirmed and married and graduated from high school, all in Northfield,” Ozmun said.