New York Mills police officer honored in procession across state following battle with COVID
19 vehicles were part of the procession that honored New York Mills Police Officer Ron Smith as it passed through Wadena on Thursday, Dec. 16. Smith died Wednesday, Dec. 15, following a battle with COVID-19.
WADENA — The body of New York Mills police officer Ron Smith was escorted from Duluth to Browerville on Thursday, Dec. 16, with emergency personnel in procession. Smith died Wednesday following a battle with COVID-19 that left him hospitalized for the last 20 days.
Nineteen emergency vehicles escorting Smith included police departments from Staples, Wadena, Verndale, and New York Mills taking the lead. Also on hand were county sheriff vehicles from Wadena, Todd and Morrison counties and an ambulance from Lakewood Health Systems in Staples. It's believed some 50-70 vehicles took part in the procession from Duluth to Browerville, according to Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr. Duluth officers had a large showing of support for Smith and each county and city he passes through also took part in honoring the man known as a first class guy.
Smith was admitted to Lakewood on Nov. 26 and was put on a ventilator to help him breathe. He was later transferred to St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, where he remained on machines until Dec. 15.
The group passed through Wadena at 4 p.m. Ice and snow covered roads greeted them all along the way from the hospital Smith breathed his last breath to the funeral home in Browerville, where he’ll remain until his service next week.
Those hearing of Smith’s passing shared numerous memories of the kind man that they knew him to be. Beloved by many in the Perham, New York Mills, Wadena and Motley communities he served during his 14 years in law enforcement, Smith will be remembered as a "really good guy" who was “pretty phenomenal," according to a few of those closest to him.
“He was a great person, great officer, great dad, great husband,” Wadena Chief of Police Naomi Plautz said. “Just an all around great guy who would give you the shirt off his back.”
Wadena Police and Wadena County Sheriff’s Officers got to know Smith well in his time working in the area. Plautz recalls him as a probation agent before coming on as an officer. Counting his time in probation, he served the public over 20 years.
“He was a very fair individual,” Plautz said. “Everyone that had to be arrested by him would say he was fair, and just doing his job.”
It takes a special person to have that effect in the community and comments pouring in show, Smith was well loved.
"He was quite the guy," Sheriff Carr said. "When you think about people with character, he was that guy. When you talked to him it made you feel important."
Carr takes comfort in the fact that Smith was a man of strong faith.
A line up of Wadena County Sheriff's vehicles, police departments from Wadena and New York Mills, area conservation officers, Wadena Fire Department trucks, Tri-County ambulances and county staff lined up outside the Wadena County Courthouse in a show of support, as the funeral home's hearse situated in the middle of the group headed south toward Browerville.
New York Mills officers were involved in the three-hour escort from Duluth to Browerville. The New York Mills Police Department is staffed by three full-time police officers as well as five part-time officers.
Smith served as a police officer in New York Mills, Perham and Wadena, and as a part-time deputy with the Wadena County Sheriff’s Office. He previously served as the Motley Chief of Police and worked as a probation agent for Todd-Wadena Community Corrections . When he joined the New York Mills team, he planned to stay until retirement, said Tina Gritz, who created a GoFundMe donation page supporting the Smith family prior to his death.
He was “such a positive person,” said Gritz.
“Ron is a wonderful guy and has been a part of our communities giving back,” the Wadena Fire Department wrote in a Facebook post during Smith's hospitalization.
Smith was always proud to talk about his family, grandchildren, and their farm in Motley, Gritz said, adding that Smith and her husband developed a close relationship when raising their “wild child” teenagers. Smith had a knack for forming friendships with people, as he enjoyed spending hours of time chatting and sharing stories.
He wasn't “just a 'Hi' and 'Bye' person,” Gritz said.
“One thing about Ron that I’ve always admired and liked about Ron was his character and his faith, (he's a) very strong person that way,” Carr said.
Smith’s funeral service will take place at 1 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 21, at the Motley Free Methodist Church, 33 Wellwood St. E, Motley, according to the Iten Funeral Home in Browerville. Visitation will take place one hour prior to the funeral service at the church and will continue immediately following the service.
Wadena Pioneer Journal multimedia reporter Rebecca Mitchell also contributed to this article.