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Passionate police officer ventured from South Africa to northern Minnesota

When he is not working, Ty Van Heerden enjoys spending time with his mixed family Nikita Van Heerden, Ally Anderson, Tyler Van Heerden, Anna Van Heerden, Tanner Van Heerden and wife Melissa Van Heerden make up a mixed family (not pictured Austin Anderson). Photo by Travis Grimler

Ty Van Heerden wasn't born locally, but he is passionate for the protection of Pine River and its people.

Van Heerden was born and raised a world away in South Africa.

"It's a lot like the United States. It just isn't quite as open. The ocean is close by and there is lots of woods and major cities," Van Heerden said.

It was there that he first got a taste of law enforcement.

"You start military training or law enforcement (during school). You start there and when you go out into it, when you join the reserves, they send you out to do stuff like drug awareness, road blocks for DUIs, firearm training, shooting and things like that," he said.

When Van Heerden first started police reserve training in 1996, he was only 18. in spite of his early head start, Van Heerden didn't become a law enforcement professional until 2012. He was busy; he was starting a family.

Instead of law enforcement he tried various other jobs, including work as a relieving manager for a big meat cutting company. The year 2004 brought Van Heerden to the United States for the first time.

"I started doing farming and agriculture. I started out in Missouri, then we traveled a lot and went to Kansas, South Dakota and North Dakota," Van Heerden said. "Then I went back to South Africa for a while. I came back and did farming again. It was just pretty much here and there."

Van Heerden's farm life lasted from about 2004-06, with breaks in between. He drove semi trucks and combines, but he eventually came to Pine River, where his life changed in a very big way.

"I worked for Melissa at Shamp's. That's how Melissa and I met," Van Heerden said.

They both had children from previous marriages and Van Heerden said they connected almost instantly. They married in 2009, and Van Heerden found himself with new opportunities to rekindle an old passion.

"I've always been interested in law enforcement. Working at the shop I told Melissa, 'This is what I would like to do. I'd like to join law enforcement. That is my kind of job. If I like it, then I would go to school for it.' And I did," Van Heerden said.

Van Heerden was on the Pine River Fire Department, but he decided to also join the Pine River Police Reserves just as soon as he gained his citizenship. That magical time came in July 2012, and Van Heerden began his pursuit of his dream job that August.

"I've always been interested. I couldn't do anything until recently when I got into the reserves. When I started in the reserves I realized, 'This is definitely for me.' I went to CLC and got my two-year degree in law enforcement and absolutely love it," Van Heerden said.

Van Heerden enjoyed the reserves so much that he pursued a position on the police department. He began training in 2013, but education, work and all his other duties clashed, so he had to say goodbye to the fire department.

"I kind of ran out of time. That was pretty hard to resign from the fire department for time issues. I had classes and Monday night meetings. I was at school a lot for these two years and I couldn't make calls. It was really tough to make fire calls. I felt like I was taking up space without going on fire calls," Van Heerden said.

Van Heerden received his Associate in Applied Science degree from Central Lakes College in 2014 and became a part-time Pine River police officer about a year ago. On Dec. 9, he was promoted yet again to full-time police officer. He went from patrol to become the Pine River-Backus School liaison officer.

"A lot of kids, especially growing up, (parents) say, 'There's a cop. They'll take you away.' So they fear the law enforcement quite a bit. You have community policing and you have interaction with the kids. They get to see that we aren't that bad and we're pretty good. We aren't there to take them to jail," Van Heerden said. "I think it's important to build a good relationship with the kids."

Van Heerden and his wife have a mixed family. She brought three to the table, while he brought two, and to make things interesting they had two together.

Needless to say, it is too hard to travel to South Africa to visit Van Heerden's family, but his parents visit him, and with the use of Facebook and Skype he keeps in contact with his two sisters, who also have growing families in Australia.

"It is definitely nice when my folks are over. They get to see their grandkids. I wish some of my other family could come and visit. They have big families themselves," Van Heerden said.

It's safe to say that growing up, Van Heerden never expected to be a police officer in Pine River, but sometimes what you do is more important than where you do it. It also helps when you have a supportive family.

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