WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — It’s a poignant week at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as the department gets ready to say goodbye to retiring Sheriff Tim Helder and hello to Sheriff-Elect Jay Cantrell, who starts in the role on Jan. 1.

Sheriff Helder has served in the role for 17 years, making him the longest-serving sheriff in the county’s history. He’s already started the process of clearing out his office and taking the many things that adorned his desk home.

“If you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life and that’s been me,” he said.

He said it’s been a true honor serving the Washington County community in his 43 years in law enforcement, especially since the job runs in his family.

“I’m third-generation law enforcement,” he said. His maternal grandfather and his father both served with the Los Angeles Police Department.

However, he had no intention of following in those footsteps until he and his wife were going through some tough times.

“I’m just a firm believer that God puts people in our lives and at just the right times,” he said. “My Sunday school teacher was chief deputy at the sheriff’s office. Ray Ward was his name back in 1979.”

Ward offered him a job working dispatch and he took it.

“I was took for life and there’s no looking back for me,” he said.

He graduated from the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy at the age of 21. He moved from dispatch to the patrol unit and eventually transferred to the Fayetteville Police Department in 1982.

He worked his way through the ranks at FPD all the way up to deputy chief. He went back to WCSO in 2003 and about a year later, then Sheriff Steve Whitmill called him into his office and told him he was taking another job and so Helder had to decide fast if he wanted to run for sheriff.

“Holly and I prayed about it. I had run one other campaign prior to that, and that was for school board. And that took years off of my life,” he said with a laugh. “I’m thinking I don’t want to run for another office, but as we look back, it was one of the fun times in our life when we got to meet a lot of great people.”

He believes God opened that door for him as well. He said he never had aspirations to become sheriff, but he’s grateful he took that opportunity.

“We have the authority to take people’s liberty away from them, but you know what else we have the authority to do? That’s to help people when they’re in their moment of need,” he said.

As you walk into the waiting area of the WCSO building in Fayetteville, you see photos of almost every sheriff dating back to the beginning of the department in 1828. The longest most of those sheriffs served was 10 years.

Helder recalls hitting the 10-year mark in his tenure and feeling he still had time left to serve. However several years later, with the help of his family, he realized that he had given all he could in his service.

“When Holly and I decided we would run for the office of sheriff, she said I’ll support you 100% as long as you will promise me that when the day comes, when I whisper in your ear it’s time that you listen, and she did that about two years ago,” he said. “We were about halfway into this term and she said look, I know your stress level is so much different than it used to be and we want to have some good years together.”

So he listened and decided to retire after his term ended this year. And soon, there will be a new face added to that wall of nearly 200 years of history.

“I’m excited to take on this challenge to be the next sheriff of Washington County,” said Sheriff-Elect Jay Cantrell.

Helder and Cantrell have worked together in local law enforcement for a long time. Cantrell has been Helder’s right-hand person his entire tenure as sheriff.

“I think the legacy he leaves is he’s the great communicator,” said Cantrell. “He’s just got this uncanny ability to bring people together to foster good relationships.”

“I don’t know if I have any words of wisdom for Jay other than to be the very same person that you are today, be that same person tomorrow. He’s a true servant leader,” said Helder.

Sheriff Helder is confident with where WCSO is heading and he’s at peace knowing the sun has set on his time in law enforcement.

It’s been an honor and that’s it, you know, everything’s got to come to an end. So this is mine,” he said.

Helder said he and his wife plan to catch up on some much-needed family time. And after taking some time to relax, they plan to look at ways to volunteer in the community and continue giving back.

Sheriff-Elect Cantrell will be sworn in during a private ceremony at midnight heading into Jan. 1 and will have a public ceremony on Jan. 3.