In November 2002, Gary Menssen was elected to serve as the sheriff of Watonwan County.
By that time, Menssen had already served the community in law enforcement for a number of years, and when he opted to run for the position he did it because he felt that there was a need for a change.
His official capacity as sheriff started in January 2003. It will come to an end this coming January, as Menssen has decided to retire.
Having grown up in St. James and graduated from St. James High School, Menssen has spent his entire life in the area, with the exception of the time he spent in college.
What started at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa continued at Mankato State University where he earned a degree in law enforcement.
Menssen admitted he didn’t know until he was a junior in college which degree path he would choose.
“I was there to play baseball,” he said, adding, however, he knew eventually he would have to choose a career.
Having taken some classes related to the subject, Menssen said he felt like a career in law enforcement would be a good one. Having spent more than 30 years in the field Menssen added that has certainly been the case.
After earning his degree, Menssen continued his education in Hibbing where he took the skills portion of the requirement to work in law enforcement.
Menssen’s first job was back in his hometown.
“I was hired in 1986 as a part-time deputy,” said Menssen, adding he also served in a part-time role for the Madelia Police Department.
Menssen was hired as a full-time deputy for the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Department in 1992 and spent the next two decades protecting and serving the area traveling throughout the county.
While Menssen said he understood his role was about public safety, which meant writing tickets now and then, he much preferred those cases where more investigation was required.
“I enjoyed figuring those cases out,” said Menssen.
Law enforcement is different today than it was when Menssen started, and the demand on deputies is so much greater, he said.
“People don’t know their neighbors anymore,” said Menssen, adding that leads to a lot more arguments which result in calls to law enforcement.
The perception of law enforcement on a bigger scale has also changed, added Menssen. Officers are dealing with more mental health issues, and the training officers are required to do is demanding more of their time. Whether one is a deputy in Watonwan County or Hennepin County, the demands are the same.
Menssen said he could have stayed on the job for another term, but felt now was the time to step aside and let some of the younger generation in law enforcement take over the leadership role.
The new sheriff will be sworn in this coming January, and Menssen said he is confident the newly elected sheriff, Jared Bergeman, will do a good job.
As he looks back on his career, Menssen said he is going to miss being with the people, especially his fellow law enforcement colleagues. He will also miss the opportunity to serve the public.
The calls at 2 a.m. are something he won’t miss.
“I enjoyed all of the people I have worked with in the county,” said Menssen, adding he appreciated the support of the Watonwan County board.
For him it made sense to work together, because in the end everyone was working for what they felt was best for the county as a whole.
Menssen said he has no specific plans for his immediate future, adding he thinks he may spend his first day of retirement somewhere in a fish house.
Menssen said he plans on finding another job, but said for the winter he plans to relax and then has some things he wants to do around his home.
Menssen said enjoyed his role in law enforcement, which included 16 years as sheriff, 27 total years of full- time service and more than 30 years in law enforcement.
The majority of his family lives in the area, said Menssen, added the farthest one of his kids lives from St. James is Sioux Falls.
“I am not going anywhere,” said Menssen.