Inspiring Okeechobee: The Saums are a team

OKEECHOBEE — After serving 39 years with the City of Okeechobee, Detective Bill Saum is retiring this week.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Bill and Gail Saum believe God saved their marriage.

Bill Saum and his family — parents, two sisters and a brother — were originally from a small town in Ohio. They were farmers. Around 1941, his dad made his first trip to Okeechobee. He and some friends were big bass fisherman and wanted to go where the HUGE bass were — Lake Okeechobee. They came down, and he fell in love with Okeechobee. He had some health issues, and the cold really bothered him, so they moved to Florida. Oddly enough, they did not move to Okeechobee. They moved to Fort Pierce.

As an adult, Detective Saum moved around Florida from Fort Pierce to Orlando to Apopka and finally to Okeechobee where he met his second wife, but that marriage did not last, either, he said. In 1981, he began working for the City of Okeechobee in what was then called the road department. He drove a dump truck, mowed the park, etc. He went from there to dispatch around 1983 and then in 1985 went on road patrol. In 1998, he became a detective and has been a detective for 22 years, bringing his total with the city to 39 years.

Detective Saum’s wife, Gail, is from Tampa. She move to Okeechobee around 1980 with her ex-husband. She did not want to keep traveling, because she had a son and wanted to settle down and raise him in one place, and they ended up divorcing, she explained. The traveling wasn’t the only problem, of course, but it was one of the big ones. Okeechobee has been her home ever since.

The two met at Skip’s BBQ, where she was working as a waitress. They met in 1988, and on their first date, he told her he was going to marry her. She replied, “Like hell you are.” In 1989, they were married. For 32 of his 35 years as a police officer, his wife has been the one to be there for him as he walked into the house with blood on his shirt, he said. “She had to wonder if it was mine. She’s the one who never knew if I would make it home at night. I couldn’t have done my job if she wasn’t there supporting me. She was always there for me, no matter what.”

Although they both had failed marriages prior to this one, they know exactly why their marriage has succeeded. Detective Saum said when they first got married, he was an alcoholic, and two years into the marriage, he was ready to give up again, but his wife refused to give him a divorce. She said, “We aren’t getting a divorce. We’re going to church,” and he said, “Oh,Him.”

“I knew I was going to have to face God,” he said. “From there, my life changed. Because of our Lord, Jesus Christ, our lives changed, and God saved our marriage.”

Mrs. Saum said: “When Bill asked me for a divorce, God gave me a vision of the husband I have now. That’s why I told him we were not getting divorced. Since then, it’s been a walk. If not for Jesus Christ, we would not be together.” In 1995, “It grew from there. It was little baby steps and things we had to get through,” said Detective Saum. “Don’t be fooled. There are arguments. We’ve got lots of history. When people come to us, we look at them and go… and? They tell us things and think it’s horrific, but we went through it 10 or 15 years ago and lived through it.” Then the Saums share the gospel with them and help them understand how they made it through those things.

The things Detective Saum experienced as a young man have helped him build a successful ministry to younger men. He is able to understand exactly what they are going through, because he went through many of those things himself. He has been meeting with his men’s group for over 20 years now. He and a friend had a yearning to help other men get through the struggles they had been through, and John Glenn from Freedom Ranch helped them organize the men’s ministry. “We wanted to help others see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

His faith even helped him in his job. With some of the people he met, he would tell them, “You’re a good person at heart. Twenty years from now, where do you see yourself? Is it prison? If it is, you’ve made a good start at it.” He didn’t hold back. He was trying to make them think, he said. “You’ve got to decide who or what you are going to serve.” His hope is that he has guided some people to truth. He always feels blessed when someone contacts him to tell him he made a difference in their life somehow, he said.

After she left Skip’s BBQ, Mrs. Saum said she felt drawn to the medical field and became a CNA and a phlebotomist. She spent some time working for Martha’s House as a sexual assault advocate and then started working with adults with disabilities. She has been doing that now for a long time. She helps a lot with the organization of the Social Butterflies group in Okeechobee. This is an informal group of individuals with special needs and their caregivers. They meet for socialization, and Mrs. Saum does a lot of the planning and organization of the activities for the group. The number who attend their gatherings varies wildly. For one Christmas banquet, they had over 200 people, but they managed to make it work. And then, there are times when they might have an event with only 10 people. “You never know what to expect,” she said. “But, that’s OK.”

Once he is officially retired, Mr. Saum plans to work out in his woodworking shop. He is going to remodel his shed. He may buy another shed. He plans to paint his house, sell his boat and buy another one. They plan to take a few trips. He would like to show her the farm he grew up on, and she’d like to see the Grand Canyon. “We’re just going to go have some fun,” he said.

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