By Russell Victorian
McLeod County Chronicle
McLeod County Sheriff Duane Kopesky has been wearing a uniform for over 30 years. His first uniform was that of a Navy seaman.
After his fifth term as the county's sheriff, ending January 1999, Kopesky will be retiring.
What will be the first thing he will do? Kopesky said he will probably do some woodworking on the first day of his retirement. Then that evening, he will take his wife out to dinner to celebrate.
But until then, it will be business as usual, he said. There will be the consolidation of the dispatches in Glencoe and Hutchinson.
Kopesky said he has been busy filling the turnover positions within the department. There also are a lot of loose ends he wants to wrap up before he retires.
After a new sheriff is elected in November, there will be a transition period when he will work with the new sheriff to get them familiar with the office, duties and current projects.
Kopesky, who will be 51 when he retires, said he has been thinking about retiring for some time for personal and professional reasons.
After 30 years in law enforcement, he said he feels it is time to do something different.
Kopesky said he has enjoyed his opportunity to serve. "I enjoy my job as much today as I did the first day I put the uniform on. I also enjoyed the challenge of being sheriff."
Kopesky said he will miss meeting people in area communities, the people he has worked with.
He said he also met many people around the state when he was a member of the state Sheriff's Association Board of Directors, member and president on two occasions of the Metropolitan Sheriff's Association and member of the Minnesota State Sheriff Legislative committee.
Kopesky said being a part of those organizations also allowed him to be on top of current trends statewide and nationwide.
But it all comes down to the people in McLeod County. "There is not a corner of this county where I have not visited with the people," he said. "People know me as the chief law enforcement officer, but also as their friend."
Kopesky said he plans to continue to do community (volunteer) work when he retires. He said he also may take up a job for a couple days a week.
Over the last 30 years, he said he has devoted a lot of time to law enforcement-related issues and that has taken away time he would have spent with his family.
Now that he will retire, Kopesky said he plans to spend a lot more time with his wife, Mary Jo, two daughters, Jody and Allison, and grandson, Max.
He said he has no intentions to leave McLeod County or Winsted, where he has lived since the 1960s, except he may go south for a little while during the winters.
Kopesky wore a U.S. Navy uniform for three years before he entered the law enforcement field. His military memories include being involved in Operation Deep Freeze at the South Pole.
In 1968, he started his first law enforcement job working at the Hutchinson Police Department.
Kopesky was a deputy with the Meeker County Sheriff's Department for a short time until he became the Winsted police chief.
In 1978, he was elected to his first term as McLeod County sheriff. He took office in January 1979.
One of his first official actions as sheriff was to petition the district court to close the McLeod County jail, which was "a condemnable building," Kopesky said.
From there came the new county jail, he said. "It was a big political decision."
Several programs were initiated during Kopesky's 20 years as sheriff, including going from a seven digit call for emergency services to 911, and now, to the enhanced 911.
"The 911 service has saved a lot of lives," he said.
The sheriff's department has expanded to add several divisions, to include a narcotics and a communications division. It also has a well run jail, Kopesky said.
"I was the sheriff, but it took a good staff to accomplish those things," he said.
Kopesky said he has received a lot of support as sheriff over the years from his family, friends, the public and from campaign workers, many of whom helped him campaign during all five elections.
When asked what major events he remembered best while sheriff, he said, "If it (the event) was major to the person who called it in, it was major to us (the sheriff's department)."
Kopesky said the capture of Phillip Cole and the tornado (bad weather events) were events he also would remember.
Candidates for sheriff will file in July. If there are more than two candidates, there will be a primary in September. The election is in November.
Kopesky said he has learned the true meaning of responsibility as sheriff.
"If someone runs for sheriff just because they like the title, they will be in over their head and are running for the wrong reasons," he said.
"That person better understand the word responsibility and be ready to serve the community, because once the excitement of the election is over and the star is pinned on, that person has a very important job to do," Kopesky said.