Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson recognized women of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday, March 10 to honor Women’s History Month.
March has been Women’s History Month since 1981.
“It’s a time for all of us to reflect, to remember trailblazers,” Swanson said. “These are women who made an incredible achievement in this field … women who have stepped up, went against all odds, people didn’t think they could do it. We have shown in this office that’s not the case.”
Swanson recognized Maddie Fordham, who was born in 1931 in Tennessee and moved to Saginaw. She became a deputy at the GCSO.
“She was a black female who poured life into all people,” Swanson said. Fordham was a social worker by trade and helped people who needed it. She also was an organizer of a tenants association and helped people with finding good housing. She also worked with inmates. She died in 1991 while off duty.
The Genesee County Ambassadors presented her family with a yellow rose, which signifies gratitude. They also gave them a “challenge coin,” which Swanson said they give to people who “mean a lot” to the GCSO.
Also recognized was Magistrate Cora Gregory, who’s served on the bench since 1998. She was the first female police deputy at the GCSO in 1973. She received her bachelor and master’s degrees from Michigan State University, and she works with the Mott Community College criminal justice program.
“She’s been a trailblazer when it comes to women in the field of criminal justice,” Swanson said.
He introduced Avon Burns, who was the professor of his intro to criminal class at Mott Community College in 1991.
“Dr. Burns has put more women and minorities in police work than anybody in Genesee County history. That’s a fact,” Swanson said. “She will tell you exactly what you need to hear even if you don’t want to hear it. She’s not only been a mentor of my life, but she led me to an internship that next year at this place. At 18 years old as an intern, it opened my eyes to what the sheriff’s office is capable of doing.”
She received her Ph.D from Wayne State University.
Burns thanked Swanson for this event. She told a story about a “horrible incident” that took place 50 years ago at the GCSO between a women officer and a male officer. This was when more women were entering law enforcement, and not everyone was accepting.
Burns said she’s proud to be a part of the movement to encourage more training and education.
Swanson recognized Capt. Kariann Nelson, who’s the first female captain at the GCSO. She was appointed to the post by Swanson in February 2020.
She was a paramedic when she first came to the GCSO in 2002, and Nelson said she always wanted to do and learn more.
“I was blessed to be assigned to the detective bureau where I was able to investigate numerous crimes,” she said. “I wanted more. I can go further.”
Then she became a lieutenant of the detective bureau, but said she always had more to offer. She was appointed captain of law enforcement in February 2020.
“This has been an amazing position to be in, but it’s also one I couldn’t do without everybody behind me,” she said, referencing the group of women GCSO deputies behind her. Nelson said the GCSO has 24 police certified female deputies and sergeants in the office, as well as 28 non-certified corrections deputies, sergeants and those working in elder abuse.
“We’re only growing. I can’t say how proud I am to be a part of this office. I am looking forward to greater and bigger and better things to come,” she said.