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'Trooper Andy' says goodbye

STATE TROOPER ANDY SCHMIDT retired from his duties as public information officer for the Detroit Lakes district on Tuesday. A native of Albany, Minn., he and his wife, Nancy, reside in Staples.

For more than a decade now, "Trooper Andy" Schmidt has been the voice of the Minnesota State Patrol in this part of the state.

In his role as public information officer for the State Patrol, Schmidt has appeared on radio talk shows throughout the area, written the "Ask A Trooper" column that runs in the Detroit Lakes newspaper (among others), and even given the occasional school presentation on driver safety.

But as of today, Schmidt has officially handed over the reins to Trooper Jesse Grabow. After almost 31 years in law enforcement -- 29 of them with the State Patrol -- Schmidt is now retired.

"My last day is Tuesday, Dec. 7," Schmidt said in an interview late last week.

"Fifty-five was my target to retire," he added, noting that he celebrated his 55th birthday on Tuesday, Nov. 30.

Schmidt, who holds the rank of technical sergeant, has been with the State Patrol for "29 years and 8 months," serving in a variety of capacities before coming to the Detroit Lakes district as the new safety education officer in August of 1999. (A few years ago, that job title was changed to public information officer.)

Before joining the State Patrol, he also worked for 13 months as the police chief of Watkins, a tiny town about 25 miles southwest of St. Cloud.

"I've served 30¾ years in law enforcement," he said. "That's long enough."

And yet, there are some things he'll miss, Schmidt added.

"The last few summers, I've spent two weeks at the Legionville school patrol camp," he said. "That's good duty. Some of those days get long -- I'm up at 6:30 a.m., and on a couple of evenings, my last presentation ends at 8 or 8:30 p.m. But I've enjoyed those kids."

He also enjoyed doing driver education -- in fact, he said, that's one thing he might still stay involved in after his retirement.

"To me, that's so important," he said. "Some of my counterparts don't do that (teach driver's ed) anymore, but I just didn't want to give it up. It's too dang important to talk to those 14- to 16-year olds who are gonna start driving soon.

"I've been described as an entertainer, and a comedian -- and I used that," he continued. "I'd have those kids laughing and rolling in the aisles, and then I'd have them crying... I'll miss that."

Schmidt said he'll also miss the radio shows, and even writing the "Ask A Trooper" column for the area newspapers.

"I've gotten e-mails and letters from people who read the 'Ask a Trooper' articles, even though they haven't lived here for 15-20 years," he said. "I get Christmas cards and letters from people all over Minnesota, and I forget how many other states.

"I've had a lot of fun with it," he added. "It's things like that I'll miss.

"What I won't miss is the winter snowstorms, and freezing my butt off waiting for the tow trucks (to help stranded motorists)."

He also won't miss dodging traffic to get to the scene of an accident, as he's sometimes had to do.

"I got hit once," he said. "I was making an arrest."

After he had made the traffic stop and was walking over to the vehicle to talk to the driver, "he (the driver) stepped on the gas."

The car struck Schmidt and he flew up over the engine hood, hit the windshield, then landed over on the other side of the car.

"That hurt!" Schmidt said ruefully. Though he didn't suffer any broken bones as a result of the accident, he added, "Since that day, if I move just wrong, my back will be in pain and I'll end up in the chiropractor's office."

Other than that incident, Schmidt said, the only injuries he's suffered on the job have been cuts, scrapes and bruises.

"I've had countless numbers of those," he added.

It's those kinds of things he won't miss at all, Schmidt added.

"When the next snowstorm hits, I'll sit and look out my front window and think, 'Boy, I'm glad I don't have to do that today,'" he said.

Instead, he'll be spending his time at home in Staples, doing chores around the house, reading bass fishing magazines, and teaching the occasional defensive driving class.

"Now I get to be the housewife," he said with a laugh. (His wife, Nancy, will continue working at Central Lakes College in Staples for a few more years.)

One of the things he most looks forward to is spending more time out on the water during the summer.

"My wife says I'm afflicted with a disease called bass fishing," Schmidt said, chuckling. "I've been known to be out on the water before the sun goes up, and not come off it until the sun goes down.

"Other than my wife, that (bass fishing) is my biggest passion," he said.

Schmidt also intends to spend more time with his family. He and his wife Nancy got married while he was still serving in the U.S. Navy, and have two grown daughters, as well as two grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.

"I'm one of eight kids, and among my brothers and sisters, cancer, bad hearts and lupus have run rampant," he said. "There's only four of us left."

Eventually, Schmidt said, he'll start looking for a part-time job -- though it won't be in law enforcement.

"It hasn't been like work to me," he said of his years with the State Patrol. "I'll miss the people, I'll miss the officers.

"But I've got too much life to enjoy," Schmidt added. "I ain't got time to work until I die."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454