2017-02-26 / Insight

Lapeer County served by many longtime officials

County administrator John Biscoe also wore badge as undersheriff
810-452-2609 •

Lapeer County Administrator John Biscoe has lived in Lapeer County his entire life. He started out serving the county as undersheriff and then took on the role of county administrator. 
Photo by Krystal Moralee Lapeer County Administrator John Biscoe has lived in Lapeer County his entire life. He started out serving the county as undersheriff and then took on the role of county administrator. Photo by Krystal Moralee LAPEER — Public service isn’t merely something one should do for pay or recognition, but because “it’s the appropriate thing to do” for one’s community, according to John Biscoe.

Biscoe, 75, has lived in Lapeer County all his life, and he’s been employed by the county since 1981, when a fresh-faced sheriff named Ron Kalanquin took him out to lunch and asked him to be undersheriff.

Before that, though, Biscoe said, “I’m an old Lapeer High School kid.”

When he talks about his high school days — class of ’59 — it’s apparent he had a good time. With a little prying, he’ll tell you he ran track and played football.

“We had an undefeated team in ’58,” he said. “Lot of good memories out of that place.”

He joined the Army, he said, because he hadn’t quite decided what he wanted to do as a career. There, he became military police, and that spoke loud and clear. He spent about three years overseas with the Army, and upon his return, he enrolled in criminal justice classes at Michigan State University. That’s where he met Kalanquin, who wrote the following of Biscoe in his final annual report as sheriff:

“The cold war was at its height and I was in my first police administration class. Our class as a whole was mesmerized by an older charismatic Army MP that had served in Germany. John Biscoe was his name. I knew from that moment he had natural leadership qualities, an inner calmness and a confidence that I would never forget.”

Fourteen years passed and Biscoe and Kalanquin fell out of touch, but when Kalanquin was looking for an undersheriff who had the qualities he wanted on his team, he immediately thought of Biscoe, got in touch with him, and before long, he had his undersheriff. Biscoe served in that capacity until 1988.

“I enjoyed the world out of it,” Biscoe said of his time as undersheriff. “It was a wonderful experience.”

But then, Biscoe was offered another position. The county was transitioning from a county coordinator to county administrator.

“I was urged to apply, and I did,” he said. “I guess my thought was I wouldn’t be too far from criminal justice if I got the job, and here I am.”

And he’s been there ever since.

The county’s been through ups and downs since 1988, and with Biscoe at the helm, has navigated the waves successfully. The recession around 2008 was particularly tough, but the county was able to weather that storm as well as the traditionally “austere” budgets, as Biscoe describes them.

He credits much of that success to the continuity and foresight the boards of commissioners have had over the years. Budgeting is not an easy process, but the county’s history of looking not only at the immediate budget but also the coming years, Biscoe believes, has helped steer the ship and keep it on course.

He also enjoyed watching the process of the historic courthouse being brought from a state when it was closed up and in danger of being torn down to fully restored and operational, thanks to massive efforts from a few dedicated individuals who raised a million dollars to make it happen.

Biscoe and his wife, Gail, live in Marathon Township. She’s a retired teacher. They have two kids and three grandkids — “all in Texas,” he said. It’s hard to have them so far away, but thinking back to his own youth, he offers a wry smile and says, “being a parent is punishment for being a child.”

In his spare time, Biscoe loves to sail. It’s something he became interested in back in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. He sails mainly on the Saginaw Bay, and if you ask how often, his reply is, “not enough.”

He also sits on the United Way board, the Red Cross board, gardens, golfs, and he’s a voracious reader.

“If I have a bad habit, it’s probably that I’m a bit of a bookophile,” he said. Among the genres that capture his attention are historical biographies and autobiographies, military history, architecture and formal gardening.

He also admits, as he raids the candy dish in administrative assistant Doreen Clark’s office, that he has just a little bit of a chocolate addiction. Or maybe a lot of one.

In all, Biscoe has enjoyed his years as a public servant. He said he feels humbled, and fortunate to have met and worked with all the people he’s known.

“Lapeer’s been a place to learn and work through the years, and I don’t really have any laments about it,” he said. “Lapeer’s always been a friendly, gracious community. It’s kind of fun staying home.”

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