Two really different lives


Now he has a very successful woodworking business located just north of Marysville, but for 21 years he was the Union County Sheriff. John Overly (MHS class of ‘72) thought he would go into military service right after high school. But he was asked to take the job at the sheriff’s office as a dispatcher. He decided to try it and, oh yes, he stayed 30 years.
In the early years, he went to class in criminal justice, eventually becoming a deputy, then investigator and finally chief deputy at the time of Sheriff Harry Wolfe’s on-the-job murder in 1982.
Overly says at that time officers in the sheriff’s department took turns taking calls. This was a suspected burglary and was in the country. Sheriff Wolfe said he would take it. It could have been any of them that day, Overly said.
No one ever suspected a sheriff would be shot in Union County. But those were times when law officers didn’t wear protective vests. On the day of Wolfe’s death, the county commissioners were in their office, and in the emergency situation appointed John as temporary sheriff. But another interesting thing in Ohio is, in such an emergency situation, the county coroner (who was Dr. Malcolm MacIvor) becomes acting sheriff until a permanent replacement is made. John said that he and MacIvor supported each other until an election was held.
Overly ran for sheriff at age 27 and was elected six times, serving from 1982 until he retired from the office in 2003. During those years of service, he was in one serious gun wielding situation and others involving knives, but was never seriously injured.
So, while thinking it might be a good time to change jobs, he received a phone call from the Ohio Statehouse. It was just two years after 9/11 and the Ohio Homeland Security Department was being established. A director was needed. After many interviews he was chosen by Governor Robert Taft to head that department.
The job entailed four years of setting up a system to provide security in the state. That involved a fusion network that could facilitate communication throughout the state to share information to help prevent any catastrophic event.
In 2007, he retired again. He was 52 years old and it was time to maybe have another career. That took an interesting turn. For two years he attended art and photography classes, finally settling on working with bare wood. He describes himself as a re-purposer of wood not a carpenter, being mostly self-taught. His woodworking profession began when a friend had some wood and wanted him to make a table with it.
For John, it has been trial and error, and is quite a physical job. The wood is heavy. There have been injuries (many more than in law enforcement), including burns, cuts, punctures and a torn tendon of his upper arm. That required surgery and was a result of having to lift heavy pieces. It’s safe to say, neither of his professions has been for a wimpy person.
His new company is named The Rustik Supply Company and is located just south of Pharisburg on Rt. 4. The studio where he works is the former Alamo Dance Hall which was later a teen center and finally a church which sold it to him along with some acreage a few years ago after he outgrew his garage.
John has made large dining tables, benches, framed mirrors and wine racks, all from more than 100-year-old wood. His favorite pieces begin with old barn wood, gathered from around Union County. He turns old, well-used and well-worn pieces into beautiful furniture. The large pieces sell for from $1,000 to $2,000. His business is word-of-mouth and right now he’s four tables behind in his work.
In the shop, he has two very helpful, three-year-old twin cats, Elsa and Anna. I can tell you they’re the friendliest guard cats I’ve ever met. They live there full-time and are so glad to see him when he arrives each day.
While I was talking with him, he was working on a piece of barn wood, which had originally been hand hewn, meaning it was cut and shaped by an axe, shortly after the Civil War. The wood was part of a barn from Jerome Township, constructed by four returning Union soldiers on land given to them. Soon it will be a mantle on a new home in Marysville.
He has also found a market for his smaller tabletop pieces. There are various styles of wine racks, planters, Ohio plaques and unique magnetic openers, also made of very old Union County wood and sold in Columbus at an artist consignment shop, Celebrate Local at Easton. These range from $20 to $40.
So, former sheriff John Overly’s second occupation is a little calmer. He has much more time by himself, but so many more injuries than in law enforcement. His joy in the product is the history and story of each piece of wood he works with, giving it new life. You can reach him at
(Melanie Behrens –

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