Sheriff Underwood supports SMC criminal justice students

Published 6:27 pm Monday, January 13, 2014

Cass County Sheriff Joseph Underwood, of Cassopolis, established a $2,500 Southwestern Michigan College gift, the Law Enforcement and Corrections Endowment.

Underwood, sheriff since Jan. 1, 1993, wants to provide scholarships to students enrolled in SMC’s criminal justice program introduced fall semester 2013.

Criminal justice combines SMC and Ferris State University coursework to create a seamless bachelor’s degree all on the Dowagiac campus.

Students also have an option of earning an Associate in Applied Science degree from SMC which can be applied toward Ferris’ Bachelor of Science degree.

Police and detective jobs are expected to grow 7 percent by 2020, correctional officer jobs — SMC is a test site — by 5 percent; investigator jobs, by 21 percent; and security and gaming surveillance officer jobs in a tri-county area with three casinos, by 18 percent.

Annual salaries for these fields range from $32,000 to $61,000.

“It seemed like a great time to do something to promote that” rather than wait until the end of his last term as sheriff, Underwood said. “It’s definitely my last term. Now is an exciting time to get involved with criminal justice growing so fast.”

Underwood, who served on the Dowagiac Police Department in 1971 to 1973 under Chief George Grady, is starting the second year of the sixth four-year term he received in 2012.

Underwood, a graduate of Western Michigan University and of the National FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., has been with the sheriff’s office more than 35 years, joining in 1973 and leaving at the end of 1988 to work in the private sector until returning as sheriff.

Criminal Justice Director Todd Adkins’ faculty includes SMC Chief of Staff Tom Atkinson, Underwood’s partner at the sheriff’s office during his 25 years before 16 years as Dowagiac police chief and public safety director, including fire administration; Carol Bealor, Cass County Friend of the Court; Michigan Department of Corrections parole agent Val Johnson; and Krista Smith, Cass County Community Corrections director. Underwood serves on the CCAB.

Underwood, awarded a Purple Heart for service in Vietnam, has received many community service accolades, from being named  a 2001 Paul Harris Fellow from Dowagiac Rotary Club to the Michigan Credit Union’s Foundation Volunteer of the Year for 2000.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed him to a juvenile justice board in 2003. He was reappointed in 2008 and has delivered meals for Cass County Council on Aging.

Underwood’s wife, Cindy, directs the state Department of Human Services locally.

“We at SMC are very grateful to Joe for establishing this endowment,” President Dr. David M. Mathews said. “A tremendous number of students served by SMC simply would not be able to attend college if it were not for scholarships established by generous people like the Underwoods.”

Though he doesn’t golf, Underwood started an annual summer golf outing at Hampshire Country Club 17 years ago to bring his department closer to the community it protects.

Underwood’s office presented SMC $10,000 for the 1997 Community Policing Scholarship in October 2012.

The sheriff’s office usually gave eight $500 scholarships annually — six to SMC-bound high school students and two to Cass County students planning to attend another Michigan college or university.

More than 148 scholarships had been awarded over 15 years, Underwood said.

“With the $10,000 donation to this endowment fund and matching funds provided by the SMC Foundation, the Cass County Community Policing Endowed Scholarship fund reached a total of $105,930,” Mathews said.

“Each year, the college allocates 80 percent of the interest income on this endowment fund to scholarships. The other 20 percent of interest income goes back to the endowment, so the fund will continue to grow indefinitely.”

Southwestern Michigan College Foundation accepts contributions to existing scholarships such as Underwood’s, in addition to establishing new scholarships.

Endowment donations may be directed to: SMC Foundation, Director of Development, 58900 Cherry Grove Road, Dowagiac, MI 49047.

Contact Toney at (269) 782-1301 or for more information.