RANTOUL — When a photographer wanted to take a photo of Champaign County Sheriff’s Deputy Archie McCallister and his partner Orval Jarrett, McCallister had to stand on the curb so he wouldn’t appear to be so much shorter than his partner. It wasn’t that McCallister was that short. (He stood 5-8). It was that Jarrett was 6-2.
Some people called them “Mutt and Jeff.” Others called them “The Head Hunters.”
Although no match height-wise, the pair had quite a bit in common as far as their philosophy of treating people like they wanted to be treated. It came in handy when they served arrest warrants. And they served a lot of them.
Mr. McCallister, who died Sunday at age 78, was a people person, and he cared about his native Rantoul. He served a long stretch on the village board, ran for mayor and was active in his church.
Judge Heidi Ladd knew Mr. McCallister when she was assistant state’s attorney in Champaign county.
“He was great,” Ladd said. “I think he set the standard for what you should be in a police officer. He was very fair. He was kind and treated everyone with respect.”
Said Ladd, “The legend was (Mr. McCallister and Jarrett) were so diplomatic and professional and honest” that many of those who had warrants out for them turned themselves in rather than wait to be arrested.
“We were pretty tight,” said Jarrett, with whom Mr. McCallister worked for about 20 years. The pair were part of the fugitive apprehension division of the sheriff’s office.
They made about 60 physical arrests a month, according to a 1984 News-Gazette article. But an estimated 70 percent of those who were to be served turned themselves in.
“We used to call people on the phone, and a lot of people would turn themselves in at our request. Many times they would be sitting in the (courthouse) lobby in the morning waiting to turn themselves in,” Jarrett said.
Mr. McCallister said in his first eight years on the job, he’d only been involved in about “half a dozen good fights” with people who didn’t want to come willingly when served a warrant.
Two of those arrested were a pair wanted on attempted murder warrants. The deputies obtained the keys where the duo were staying from the building manager the day before — figuring they might not go quietly. They unlocked the door, slipped in and arrested the pair — who had guns under their pillows — in bed.
Mark and Matt McCallister both looked up to their father, and both are now members of the sheriff’s department — Mark as a sergeant in the patrol division and Matt as a deputy in the corrections division.
“As little boys we would watch him get in his squad car in uniform and leave for work every morning,” Matt McCallister said. “That leaves an impression. He was a very, very good role model.”
The McCallister line in law enforcement didn’t start with Archie. His father, Roy, was a Rantoul patrolman and served as chief from 1949-1954.
Former Sheriff David Madigan was also a Rantoul patrolman when he got to know Mr. McCallister when he was a transport driver for Kraft.
“He was always interested in law enforcement,” Madigan said.
He wasn’t surprised when Mr. McCallister joined the sheriff’s department — serving for a time under Madigan.
“He was a very good deputy, very loyal, conscientious,” Madigan said. “He was a pleasure to be around.”
Madigan said Mr. McCallister had a good rapport with all of the area law enforcement agencies.
Jarrett said he and Mr. McCallister also used to work the beer tent at the county fair. He said when they no longer worked the tent, many people asked the operator where the pair were.
Jarrett said he visited his old friend at his home the week before he died.
“I said, ‘Get your gun belt; we’ve got a warrant to go serve,’ and he smiled.”
Mr. McCallister attended Maranatha Baptist Church in Rantoul. Maranatha Pastor Mark Wilkerson said Mr. McCallister was one of the church’s first members when the church formed in 1979 and said he and his wife, Carol, remained active in the church.
“He was a Sunday school teacher in the ‘90s, but not in recent years,” said Wilkerson, who called Mr. McCallister “a fun-loving guy, very jovial, always pleasant, always encouraging.”
“I’d never heard him say anything critical about anyone. He loved the Lord and the Bible message. He liked the old hymns.”
Wilkerson said he asked for Mr. McCallister’s advice when Wilkerson was mulling whether to run for Rantoul Village Board.
Carol McCallister said her husband served on the village board for 12 years — including the tumultuous period when Chanute Air Force Base was closing.
“There was a lot of controversy there,” she said. “And they just had meeting after meeting. He was really busy with that.”
She said her husband always had Rantoul’s best interest at heart.
“He hated seeing the base closed,” she said. “He really enjoyed the base being here.”
Mr. McCallister staged an unsuccessful campaign for mayor in 1997. Ironically, one of his opponents was his former boss, Sheriff Joe Brown, who won election.
The McCallisters used to winter in Florida, but were unable to go last year due to his failing health, which disappointed her husband.
“We went to Florida for the past 15 years,” she said. “He really loved that.”
Services for Mr. McCallister are scheduled at 11 a.m. Monday at Maranatha Baptist Church.