Colleen “C.J.” Stiles, a retired trooper who became the first woman to join the Maryland State Police K-9 Unit, died Oct. 3 at Carroll Hospital at 68 years old, leaving behind a legacy of strength, determination and kindness, according to those close to her.
On Oct. 12, family and friends gathered at Pritts Funeral Home and Chapel to celebrate the life of Stiles, who was born to James E. and Joan Bishop Stiles in Baltimore on March 20, 1951, and was raised in Daniels and Woodlawn. She was an alumna of South Carroll High School.
She worked as an state police dispatcher and a driver’s license examiner for the Maryland Vehicle Administration, but cemented a legacy for herself by becoming the first woman in the Maryland State Police K-9 Unit.
“That was a huge part of her life, both for her and her husband,” said Kate Fisher, a friend of Stiles. “They were all about the K-9 work and that’s something that she was always proud of. Even long after that career had ended and she moved on to other ones. That was a very proud accomplishment for her.”
Stiles retired as a sergeant in 1996 after working in Cumberland and Westminster, according to her Oct. 9 obituary in the Times.
“She developed the idea that she wanted to be a K-9 officer, so she went off and trained a K-9 dog and she came back, actually, to Westminster as a K-9 handler and she worked right alongside with us," former Westminster Mayor Kevin Utz said.
After the death of her husband and her retirement, she decided to take a pickup truck, a trailer and her dogs, and drive across the country.
“She had a dream of traveling and took it upon herself to get a camper and a pickup truck and did a cross-country trip,” Fisher said. “Just her and the dogs because it was something she always wanted to do.”
Stiles was also a devoted bingo player who took the game seriously, Fisher said.
“C.J. was one of the most serious bingo players I’ve ever met in my entire life. She was very big and very serious when it came to bingo," Fisher said. “Somebody at work had talked about there was actually a stripper bingo up in Thurmont, and I jokingly invited my grandmother and she’s like ‘I would never.' A couple weeks later she had come to me and said, 'I’m thinking about that bingo and I want to go.’ So we went with C.J. We were laughing because even then, surrounded by these half-naked men, C.J. was just concerned with making sure she heard her numbers getting called.”
As an officer, she had a certain way of wanting things done, but even in her position of power, she was kind.
“She was ornery as hell,” her sister-in-law Darrell Bowers said. “She was good people. You can tell by her different jobs she held, she was a good person.”
“She was a stern lady and made sure that you were doing your job, she was very into making sure that your reports were well written, she knew where everybody was at but she was very motherly,” Sheriff Jim DeWees said. “So, she took care of everybody that was on the group and she knew what was going on with you, personally, to make sure that you were taken care of. She was an old-school sergeant that really did a wonderful job — one of the best supervisors I ever had.”
“She cared a lot about her road personnel, especially when she came back as a sergeant,” said Rebecca Wimmer, who worked with Stiles for a time. “She was very hands-on, very compassionate — everything she touched was about public service and helping others.”
According to Bowers, Stiles had many hobbies and things she loved, including her dogs — but hated vegetables.
“She liked to ride motorcycles until her health got too bad,” Bowers said. “She was a picky eater, we always picked on her because she wouldn’t eat vegetables. The only vegetable she would eat was lima beans. She loved, loved, loved her doggies; she had the most spoiled rotten doggies you’d ever want to meet."
According to Bowers, Stiles also had an artistic side, with “excellent" decorating skills and her ability to sew.
Stiles was also described as a genuine person who truly cared for those around her.
“Before the service I had an opportunity to speak with many people about C.J. The themes regularly repeated were service and love. C.J. had a heart to serve, both professionally and personally," said Eric Helm, who officiated Stiles’ service. "As a supervisor with the Maryland State Police, the troopers I talked with that worked for her felt she genuinely cared about them more as a person than a police officer. Once C.J. befriended someone, it was fully. There were no so-so friends. C.J.’s friendships were rooted in love.”
Stiles was married for over 20 years to Steve L. Shatzer, who died in May 2013.
She is survived by her step-mother Willie Stiles and step-sister Lori Hyder Carter, both formally of Sykesville and now of Tennessee; “pseudo-sister” Linda Dennis of Westminster; step-daughter Jessica Shatzer Lutman of Westminster; mother-in-law Peggy Gist of Westminster; sister-in-law Darrell Bowers of Hanover, Pennsylvania; brother-in-law Bruce Shatzer of Westminster; and several nieces and nephews.