Karen Houchens is a legend.
The longtime community college law enforcement officer celebrated her upcoming retirement Monday morning at Germanna Community College with longtime colleagues, friends and family members.
A law enforcement officer for 28 years, Houchens worked at Germanna Community College since 2013, serving as Deputy Chief.
For 24 of those 28 years, she’s known Germanna Chief Craig Branch, who fought back tears as he honored his friend and co-worker.
“This is hard,” an emotional Branch said. “I know the impact an officer can make on a student - she did it. We do stupid stuff, she’ll growl at us, smack us on the head. All in all, we knew she loved us and she wasn’t going to let anything happen to us. I took that philosophy when I was at Virginia State. They’re our kids and we’re going to do everything we can to protect them. She’s like a mother to us, and she was my right hand.”
Houches started her career at the Department of Motor Vehicles before working at Virginia State University in the 1990s. She later moved to J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College before ending her career at Germanna.
“The only word that comes to me when we talk about Deputy Chief Houchens, is a legend,” Branch said. “She’s a legend in our profession.”
Branch said her dedication, her knowledge and her iconic raised eyebrow defined Houchens throughout her career. She truly cared about the students under her watch, with many of her considering her ‘mom.’
“We go through a lot, responding out to students in crisis at 2 in the morning,” Branch said. “It’s a really difficult job, there’s a lot that goes on keeping a campus safe behind the scenes. She’s been able to do it for 28 years and do it at a high level.”
Chief David Bragg, Virginia State University, went through leadership school with Houchens and has worked with her throughout her career.
“She was dedicated to law enforcement and her skills and knowledge was impressive,” he said. “She was dedicated and committed to helping the police department grow.”
Retired Germanna Community College President Dr. David Sam hired Houchens and said she went above and beyond her role as an officer, working with students to teach them about the dangers of drinking and driving and working with them to promote safety on campus.
“Your first job is protecting us, but you’re also part of the community,” Sam said. “You worked with so many classes educating them, you’re a teacher in that respect - you lived our mission. You made a big difference in a short time.”
Culpeper Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Wes Mayles said Houchens kept the Lead Culpeper Class of 2016 in check, keeping the class grounded and on task.
“Culpeper Lead was such an eye opener,” Houchens said with a laugh. “I didn’t sign up for the crawling and rope climbing and all of that. They were great classmates and I love them to death.”
Houchens said she has loved her career, but it’s time to step away after 28 years.
“I stay on the boys and the rest of my officers, just follow the guidelines of what we have and everything works out for the good,” Houchens said. “I love my profession, but it’s time for me to hang my gun belt up.
“I wasn’t expecting this today,” Houchens said. “I was supposed to come in to help getting budgets straight. I just love all of y’all. It’s going to be bittersweet, but I have to move on and do other things in life.”