‘I Knew I Could Do It’

First Full-Time Female Deputy Retires From Sheriff’s Office

Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace pictured with Lori Holder, who retired June 15 as a lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Office. Holder became the first full-time deputy with the Sheriff’s Office when she was hired by then-Sheriff John Bentley. “At the time, I wasn’t sure who was going to give me the opportunity,” she said. “But I always knew that I could do it.” Submitted photo

Even at a young age Lori Holder knew she wanted to be a police officer.

“Way back when, and I know it sounds corny, I knew I wanted to help people who were in need,” said Holder, a native of Mayville.

As she got older, it became of matter of when, not if, she would land her dream job of being an officer. And in the process, Holder would become a trailblazer for other women in the profession.

Holder graduated from Mayville Central School in 1983 and received her associate’s degree in criminal justice from Jamestown Community College. She had taken a few business classes while in school, but found criminal justice more to her liking.

“I found it interesting and challenging, so I decided to go that route,” she said.

Lori Holder

She transferred to Buffalo State College and began working toward her bachelor’s degree when she began attending the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Academy. Of the 23 people in the class, only two were women.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge,” Holder said. “But I knew I could do it, and I knew that I could keep up with the men. Basically, by the end, I was at the top of my class. I had always done well in school.”

Academy life mostly included classroom work and field training. While there, Holder said she grew close with others in the academy — a bond that stuck with her throughout her eventual career in law enforcement.

Not long after graduating from the Sheriff’s Academy, Holder was hired by former Sheriff John Bentley to join the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office. With the hire, Holder became the first full-time female sheriff’s deputy in the county’s history.

“I was surprised,” she said of the hire, noting that graduating from the academy did not guarantee a job at a police department. “I was surprised because it was pretty male-dominated. At the time, I wasn’t sure who was going to give me the opportunity. But I always knew that I could do it.”

Having a supportive boss helped early on in Holder’s career. It wasn’t unusual, she said, to see Bentley turn up at a scene without warning.

“He was a wonderful person,” Holder said of Bentley, who died in May 1994 due to illness. “He was very supportive and was a good boss. Even if it was 2 a.m. you knew he might be out there, too.”

Holder received her criminal justice degree from Buffalo State College and began her career in April 1987 on road patrol with the Sheriff’s Office — an employer she stayed with just over 31 years.

Holder said she knew there would be pressure being the first full-time female deputy in the county. Most of that pressure, however, came from herself.

“It was definitely there,” she said. “I was tested not only by my peers but by the people I was meeting in the public. It was nothing extraordinary, but there were definitely some opinions out there that I shouldn’t be there.”

A resident of Bemus Point, Holder said her parents had some initial reservations over her career in law enforcement, but were supportive of her career choice. Her lifelong goal of becoming a police officer helped her parents prepare when the time came, Holder said.

In addition to her daily patrol duties, Holder served on the Water Rescue Team for about two years. She served as supervisor of court security for County, Supreme and Family courts, and assisted in the implementation of the Enhanced 911 system, now a staple in helping first responders find those requesting help.

Holder even helped write grant applications for the Sheriff’s Office, one of which landed the Sheriff’s Office $1.2 million for record management upgrades.

She met her future husband, Charles Holder, early on while working as a sheriff’s deputy. “He was in field training at the time. Poor guy,” she quipped.

Charles Holder is currently the undersheriff of the Sheriff’s Office.

Holder, who earned the rank of lieutenant, ended her career as supervisor of the Criminal Investigation Division. Part of her duties included overseeing a group of eight investigators and managing crime scene evidence.

“She’s done an outstanding job in every aspect of her career,” Sheriff Joe Gerace said of Holder. “She’s very detail-oriented and very attentive. We’re going to miss her.”

Holder retired from the Sheriff’s Office on June 15 and currently works part-time as a court clerk for the town of Ellicott.

“I think you know when it’s time,” Holder said of retirement after three decades. “It’s a combination of things when you’re getting older. It’s a young persons career. … I just felt it was time to go.”

That’s not to say old habits don’t die hard.

“At first it was strange getting ready for work and forgetting that I don’t have to put (my gun) on,” she joked.

Holder said her career taught her that nothing is impossible, whether for a woman or a man. “If you’re set on doing something, nothing is impossible,” she said. “That’s the way that I look at it.”