Community & Public Service
Thais Wilhelm began her career in law enforcement at a time when a woman’s place was securely behind an office desk. And that’s where she worked for several years in the Huntington County Sheriff’s department.
Then, she made Indiana history.
Thais Carl Wilhelm was a Huntington native and graduated from Huntington High School in 1947. She married Ivan Wilhelm in June, 1949, at Central Christian Church, where the Wilhelms worshipped their entire lives.
In the late 1950s, Thais went to work for the Huntington County License Branch, where she sharpened her clerical skills for several years before moving on to become part of the staffs of the Huntington Township Assessor and Huntington County Assessor. Before long, opportunity came calling from the office of the Huntington County Sheriff.
Visitors to the department’s administrative offices on the second floor of the Courthouse would encounter Wilhelm’s pleasant, businesslike manner as she managed the mountain of paper work generated and consumed by a police agency. Her business attire was that of a uniformed deputy, which was a relatively rare sight, even in the early 1980s.
Her skills won her the admiration of Sheriff Ray Williams. When he stepped down in 1985 from six years in the department’s top spot Williams appointed Wilhelm to succeed him as on an interim basis. She became one of six candidates to announce for sheriff in a special election conducted by the county’s 28 Democrat precinct officials.
A majority of those voting was required for election, and it took six ballots for the field to be winnowed to the final two candidates. On that ballot, Wilhelm received 15 votes and, by a slim two-vote margin, became Huntington County’s 38th sheriff — and the first woman to hold the position.
Other Hoosier females had held the title of sheriff, but they had achieved that status as successors to a deceased spouse or, like Wilhelm, to fill an unexpired term. In 1986, Wilhelm won election to the office in the general election and became the first popularly elected female sheriff in Indiana history.
In 1990, she was elected to a second four-year term. Among her accomplishment in office was to fully develop an inmate trusty program at the County Jail.
Indiana law forbids sheriffs from running for more than two full terms so Wilhelm could not seek reelection in 1994. She retired from the department in 1995.
Wilhelm cultivated interests outside public office as well. For 50 years she was a member of Huntington’s Child Welfare Club, and served on the boards of directors of the Salvation Army, Youth Services Bureau, REMC and the American Business Women’s Association. She was an avid bridge player and she and her husband enjoyed traveling in their retirement, visiting every state and nearly every presidential library.