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Oswego County Mourns the Loss of Former Sheriff

OSWEGO COUNTY, NY – Former Oswego County Sheriff Charles F. Nellis died Saturday morning at this home in Parish.

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Former Oswego County Sheriff Charles F. Nellis

Nellis joined the New York State Police in 1956, retiring in 1977 as a Senior Investigator to become Oswego County Undersheriff. Nellis served as Oswego County Sheriff from 1984 through 1998, retiring after four terms in office.

“His first term was a three-year term,” Undersheriff Robert Lighthall explained. “The term length changed and he served four years for each of his last three terms.”

Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd served as Nellis’ Undersheriff for the entire 15 years.

“Chuck was a great guy,” Todd said. “He was a Marine, he was a cop and he was very much a family man. … He was a cop even after he left this office. He just loved to serve his country, the state and the county.”

Summing up his demeanor, Todd regarded Nellis as “honest and fair.”

“When it was time for business, he was all business,” Todd said. “When it wasn’t, he was such a fun guy to be around. … He was tough, too, and made it clear that if someone did something wrong, all they had to do was be honest about it. He didn‘t accept a lie.”

Todd said that Nellis had a great sense of humor.

“We would get laughing all the time,” he said.

Todd recalled one instance when the department was cited for problems at the former jail. Standing in front of a somber commission, Todd was told that he couldn’t speak about the county’s case because he didn’t speak at the right time.

“I looked at Chuck and he looked at me and we just started laughing,” Todd said. He said the laughter spread throughout the room, to the dismay of the commission.

“They were furious,” Todd said. “The whole room was just laughing. … They actually had to adjourn.”

Todd said Nellis also had a soft heart for children and people who were in need.

“He had a very compassionate side, especially for kids,” he said.

Todd noted that Nellis’ “baby” during his county service was the new public safety center.

“It was very instrumental in getting the new public safety center,” Todd said. “It was his baby. He worked very hard for it, he fought for it and he got it.”

Lighthall said he worked with Nellis, both as a union leader and an officer.

“I had the opportunity to work with him, both as an Undersheriff and as Sheriff,” Lighthall said. “He promoted me twice, first to sergeant and then to lieutenant. … He was an upstanding guy and very professional.”

Oswego County Legislature Chairman Barry Leemann said while he never had the opportunity to work with Nellis while he served as Sheriff, he knew him well as a constituent and fellow Republican.

“He lived in Parish,” Leemann said. “I knew him, I liked him, I honored him and I respected him. … He was a former Marine. We are like a band of brothers.”

Leemann said Nellis was active in the Republican party when he decided to run for his Legislature seat.

“He supported me when I decided to run,” Leemann said. “He carried my petitions and worked really hard. He said, ‘If you are a Marine, you are alright with me.’”

Leemann noted that Nellis was in relatively good health until his wife, Virginia, was diagnosed with cancer.

“His health went downhill after that,” Leemann said.

“He wasn’t worried about taking care of himself,” Lighthall said. “He spent every minute with his wife.”

Nellis’ wife died Sept. 15. He is survived by his two sons, John and Peter. Peter Nellis retired from the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office this past September.

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