‘The guy who will answer the phone’ retires

By Kelley Stanage

Caledonia Argus


Tim Irwin
Tim Irwin

Many police departments in Houston County have come to rely on peace officer Tim Irwin. Irwin has been filling in as a part-time officer in the region for roughly 14 years and retired the end of December.

When asked how he got into law enforcement, Irwin launched into a pretty interesting story about how he ended up in the Caledonia area.

“The week I turned 17 I actually lied about my age, got a GED and dropped out of school. I badgered my mom until she signed for me to go into the military. I wanted to get into the Marine Corps.”

Irwin’s mom, a veteran of the Air Force, encouraged him to enlist with them. He joined the Air Force under general enlistment, and after boot camp they gave him two choices: a cook or a cop. Irwin said he thought, “Well, the MP thing sounds kind of fun.” He said it was a pretty boring job, basically amounting to guard duty. But, he did it for about six years.

Irwin said he feels fortunate to have become acquainted with a Master Sergeant, Vincent Di Pentima. He told Irwin, “Instead of just goofing off and hanging out at the bar, come hang out with me.”

Di Pentima taught at Thomas Nelson Community College, a local law enforcement training center.  Irwin’s affiliation with Di Pentima and the college started a long on-again, off-again relationship with law enforcement.

Irwin also worked for the Coast Guard in Boston, the Caribbean, New York City and Alaska, as everything from a sailor to an instructor. His service in the Caribbean on drug-ops, he said, was anything but glamorous. “I was doing things like cleaning things and painting things.”

After moving back to Chicago, and working for the railroad as a conductor, Irwin and his wife, Rene, moved back to California, where he worked as an electrician.  They decided to move back to the Midwest in 1999. They wanted to be near Chicago, but Rene is from Phoenix and likes the mountains and fell in love with the bluffs.

At the time, Mike Lee was Houston County sheriff and was looking for a jailer/dispatcher. Finding that he could become licensed as a peace officer in Minnesota with his experience in the military as an MP, Irwin took the test and passed.

“All of these local departments have a need for part-timers,” he said. He’s worked part-time for Plainview, Goodview, Winona and Houston County, including the cities of La Crescent, Hokah, Caledonia, Spring Grove and St. Charles, as well as the State Fair PD. He said he’s developed a niche as “the guy who will answer the phone.” In the summer, Irwin easily worked seven days a week with River Patrol and covering everyone’s vacations.

Irwin’s advice for young people wanting to go into law enforcement in our area is to “bring a plunger to work.”

What he meant is that the job isn’t non-stop excitement and entertainment. It’s more about helping people. Sometimes the most exciting thing that happens is you “get a call from some old lady whose toilet is stopped up. And you know what? You’re the only city employee around. So, you might as well grab a plunger” and go over to help out.

He said the work involves giving people rides, jump-starting cars and helping people unlock their cars. “And, those are noble things. They’re rewarding things.”

Irwin said some young professionals get frustrated as though such work is beneath them. It’s important for young people to come into the job with realistic expectations, he said.

Changes in Minnesota’s Public Employment Retirement Association for police and firemen are what have driven this go-to man to retire. After taking 30 days off, he can resume police work in a more limited way; that is, if he’s in town. His new job, as flagman on railroad construction sites, will take him out of town quite a bit.

Commenting about Irwin’s retirement, David Breault, Police Chief in Houston said, “Tim is very knowledgeable about the job. He’s like a walking statute book. His knowledge will be greatly missed by many departments in the area.”