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Former Crow Wing County Sheriff Dick Ross dies

Dick Ross

Dick Ross, who dedicated 42 years of his life to law enforcement, including 12 as the Crow Wing County sheriff, died Wednesday night at St. Cloud Hospital.

The 78-year-old leaves behind his wife of 41 years, Renee; four adult children; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Ross suffered from Parkinson's disease for 16 years and his health declined over the years. Renee Ross said her husband went into cardiac arrest Sunday night and was flown to St. Cloud Hospital but never regained consciousness.

"Everyone had a chance to get home to gather and spend three days with him (before he died)," she said. "Our belief is we know exactly where he is. He is in heaven and is free of all the medical issues and that has made it 100 percent better. He wouldn't have wanted to remain like that.

"He was always very active, a robust person."

Renee Ross said her husband had a genuine concern for filling the needs of law enforcement. Dick Ross spoke to students about child abduction prevention, and drinking and driving, and also worked with Patty Wetterling on missing and exploited children.

"His main focus was always concern for the law enforcement needs of the community, that was his life," Renee Ross said. "He loved the outdoors, loved hunting."

Ross, a 1958 graduate of Crosby-Ironton High School, started his law enforcement career in 1960 as a police officer in Ironton. The former late sheriff Al Krueger hired Ross in 1962 as a deputy with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department.

Through Ross' career he served as a jailer, sergeant, captain and chief deputy under Charles Warnberg and then sheriff.

Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl said when Ross was first elected there was an opening for patrol sergeant and Ross promoted Dahl, after he'd only been on the job for a few years.

"He took a chance with me," Dahl said. "He saw something in me. ... I'll never forget that and I have always been loyal to him. He was a good mentor. He was well respected in the county and in the state with the Minnesota Sheriff's Association. ... I am going to miss him."

Dahl said Ross was stern but was always fair and listened to everyone's point of view.

"He was a wealth of information," Dahl said. "Even after he retired, there were times I called him to talk."

On the lighter side, Dahl and Ross also played jokes.

"I was one of a few deputies who got away with the jokes," Dahl said. "He had a great sense of humor and we had fun."

Dahl not only had a professional relationship with Ross, but they also stayed in touch personally, checking on each other's children and what the families were up to. Dahl said he spent time with the family when Ross was in the hospital.

Retired Capt. Neal Gaalswyk of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office said he was a deputy when Ross was sheriff. He said Ross promoted him to sergeant and later to leading the boat and water division.

"I really liked working for him," Gaalswyk said. "I remember talking to Dick at his retirement party, saying, 'Sheriff, you put me in a position where my strengths were magnified, where my weaknesses didn't matter and when I succeeded you gave me the credit.'

Gaalswyk said in the early years he was right by Ross' side and they worked together on several issues, including getting Brainerd International Raceway "under control."

"There was always something about Dick that even though from time to time you may get frustrated, there was something about him that motivated me. I would do anything, I would climb any hill for him," he said. "He had that effect on me and I think he had that effect on other guys, too."

Gaalswyk said another thing he appreciated about Ross was they were able to discuss their faith freely with each other.

"We were just two men who had similar beliefs," Gaalswyk said. "It was easy for us to talk about the Lord and about our faith and how that encouraged us throughout our work. Law enforcement can be kind of dark at times.

"It's sad to see him go but I am happy for him on where he is."

Former Sheriff Frank Ball defeated Ross in a contentious sheriff election, which included lawsuits. Ball, who served one four-year term from 1986-90, said he respected Ross as a "good law man, a good sheriff, a good friend and he was good for the people of Crow Wing County."

"We were quite the political adversaries to say the least," Ball said, who visited Ross in the hospital Tuesday. "To start that whole saga off we were inseparable as deputies. He was my supervisor and I owe a great deal of my law enforcement career to him. He mentored me through a lot of my law enforcement activities. ... I learned quite a bit from him.

"When Warnberg left office, he threw the keys on the floor at the Law Enforcement Center and about four of us scrambled for them. It was kind of funny at the time, we scrambled for them and then the politics came. It was the county's highest contentious political drama at that time."

Ball said Ross was the favorite to win the election, but Ball won by 101 votes. He said there were multiple lawsuits and a lot of hurtful things took place at that time. At the end of Ball's term, he and Ross ran against each other, and this time Ross won.

"Had we not been friends, my law enforcement career would have ended," Ball said. "It was a good transition. He supported me when the chief of police position was available and (former) Mayor Bonnie Cumberland appointed me. She would not have done that if he didn't support me."

Ball said Ross always had a keen sense of humor and even after the political drama, he has always admired him.

"We will miss him," Ball said.

Pequot Lakes Police Chief Eric Klang also ran against Ross for sheriff and beat him in the 2002 fall election. Following the election, Ross announced he would retire from the sheriff's department on Jan. 6, 2003.

"After I won the election, I went to his house and we went into his truck and I felt really bad," Klang said. "He was a really good guy. I felt bad that I beat him."

Klang, who started with the sheriff's office in 1991, said he served on the drug task force with Ross.

"I considered him a good friend," Klang said. "He was such a neat guy. He had the ability to get you to do things and you wouldn't even question it, and it wasn't because he was sheriff, you just wanted to do it. He had this cool way to give you a task, to do something, and you just wanted to do it. He was really gifted at that. I really looked up to him because of that.

"He is so kind and compassionate to people, that was another trait I really admired in him and that is how he treated people involved in crime."

Klang said when he got into law enforcement, "community policing" was not a term people would use, but said Ross "was doing community policing before it was community policing." Klang said Ross had a way to relate to people and to identify problems and solving them.

"He had a great personality," Klang said. "He was a fun person and you always wanted to be around him. ... We did a lot of laughing, when we worked together."

Mary and Al Lindner have been friends with Ross and his family for about 25 years. Mary Lindner said they went to church together and she also helped Ross during his political campaigns.

"He was so compassionate and he loved people," Lindner said. "He loved people and was so tenderhearted and would do anything for you. We had a good friendship over the years. We watched the kids grow up. ... (Being his campaign manager) made us closer than we already were. We knew him, we knew Renee, we knew the goodness of the family, the goodness of him as a person.

"He was a valiant fire, he was so determined and strong. ... He will be dearly missed. It's a void, he is one of those people that when they are gone, it is a void. There are so many people he affected, in a positive, quiet way. He helped because Dick's a person, not the sheriff. Dick is a genuine, wonderful person who loves people."

Larry Kellerman, who was a friend to Ross for many years, said he helped Ross during his political campaign. Kellerman said he had to convince Ross to go door to door on Sundays to reach more people. Kellerman said Ross was pleased with the response he had with people on a Sunday.

"It did work and he won his second term," Kellerman said.

Kellerman said he bought a chocolate Labrador from Ross named Chewbacca, who ended up being part of the campaign. Chewbacca would walk in the parades with a sign stating, "Doggone good sheriff."

Kellerman said if he had to use one word to describe Ross, it would be "integrity."

The family said a celebration of Ross' life will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Living Word North, 16314 Highway 371, north of Baxter. Visitation will be 9-11 a.m.

**This story was updated to clarify that Ross was hired by former Crow Wing County Sheriff Al Krueger, not former sheriff Charles Warnberg.

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