‘He will be sorely missed by all,’ former Rockwell Police Chief Hugh William Bost dies at 68

Published 12:10 am Saturday, September 16, 2023

ROCKWELL — When Rockwell began the process of starting the town’s police department, Robert Bost, who was the mayor at the time, said that the town had narrowed down the choices for the first chief of police to two people. One was Hugh William Bost Jr. (no relation to Robert Bost) and the other was an officer from Henderson County.

“A police officer at the time in Salisbury gave me a call and he said listen. He said they’re both qualified, no doubt. But he said the man from Hendersonville is going to use this town as a stepping stool, that’s all it’s going to be. But he said if you hire Hugh, you’re going to hire a man who is going to dot every i and cross every t. He’s never going to leave you. And that was an easy thing wasn’t it, to choose?” said Robert Bost.

That speech came 25 years later in 2023, at a dedication of the town’s new police department building to Hugh. Hugh had never left the town, staying as its police chief until his retirement in 2022 and remaining in Rockwell until he died on Wednesday night at the age of 68. Hugh had been fighting brain cancer for the past year which had periodically left him struggling or unable to speak.

“I grew up with him, you know I went to school with him, so I’ve known him pretty much most of my life. Anytime I needed anything, I’d go see him and he would do everything he could to help me. And that wasn’t just me, he’d do that for everybody,” said Rockwell Alderman Chris Cranford.

That was one refrain popular with many of those who worked with and knew Hugh. There were not two sides to the story, one Hugh that they knew at work and then the Hugh that they knew outside of it. According to them, he was dedicated and kind in both facets of his life. As current Rockwell Police Chief Cody Trexler said, “he wasn’t just a good police officer, he was a good person.”

Hugh spent 23 years as the Rockwell chief of police, but before his appointment to that role he was the chief of Rockwell’s fire department since 1976. An example of his dedication to the emergency services of Rockwell comes from his time with the town’s fire department. In 1975, the town was looking to expand their jurisdiction, but the state said in order to do so the fire department needed an extra $33,000 tanker in order to do so. Since the town could not afford the tanker, 19-year-old Hugh took over two weeks away from his job in order to help the department turn a used truck they bought into a 1,000-gallon tanker that would meet the state and federal regulation. Hugh served as engineer of the project as well, taking an example layout from the fire chief at the time and turning it into a working blueprint.

In 1977, Hugh was sworn in as a deputy for the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. He continued to serve with the sheriff’s office as a full-time officer for 20 years, until another former mayor, Harold Earnhardt, asked the sheriff’s office if they would run Rockwell’s volunteer police department. The sheriff at the time asked Hugh to take over the job of overseeing the volunteer department himself.

Five years after he took over the department, Hugh went to Robert Bost and talked with him about chartering the town’s own full-time police department. After the department was founded, Bost learned how to program a website so that the new Rockwell Police Department would have an internet presence. Bost had learned to program after he helped write a piece of software for the town’s fire department. When he created the website, Bost took the time to program in music as well, adding songs such as “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley, the “Hawaii 5-0” theme song, and “YMCA” by Village People.

“I would help him at night sometimes with computer programming and he would stay up all night with you if need be. I don’t know when he slept. That was the type of person Hugh William was, a dedicated, hard worker, friend to the citizens of Rockwell. He will be sorely missed by the town and all of its citizens. Hugh William certainly left a legacy that will be hard to follow,” said Robert Bost.

Trexler said that after Hugh retired and Trexler succeeded him as chief of police, Trexler looked to him for advice weekly, sometimes almost daily. Because the two were neighbors, living just a few houses away, Trexler went to him anytime he needed Hugh’s wisdom or help.

When Trexler first came into the Rockwell Police Department as a part-time officer, he said that it was very common for Hugh to be the first person in to work in the morning and then stay in the building working until midnight. Even when he was not in uniform, Trexler said Hugh spent what little free time he had working on police cars and other emergency service vehicles in his garage for both Rockwell and the county.

Trexler said that when he was promoted to police chief that he had to warn the town’s board of aldermen that neither he or anyone else could ever replace Hugh.

“When they first brought me in, I had to tell them that I can’t do everything that that man did for them. I don’t think they could have found anyone in the world that could do all that that man did for them,” said Trexler.