GARNAVILLO, Iowa — Years after stepping away from his role as the sheriff in Clayton County, Verdean Dietrich spent those final 13 years helping out in the small town of Garnavillo.
“He’d do anything for you and he was a likable guy,” said Ron Hillers, who manages a hardware and lumber store across the street from the former sheriff’s home. “Oh, he’d have his opinions on everything like anybody.”
Yet now only memories are left of a man who spent his life in law enforcement and his later years in Garnavillo known to many, simply, as “Verdean”.
Chief Deputy Ryan Johnson said that, on Wednesday, the former sheriff was completing grounds work for the city and was removing a rider-mower from a city garage when the door closed on him, pinning him to the mower, killing Dietrich. He was 70 years old.
“It was a shock yesterday to find out what happened to him,” said Hillers.
Dietrich was the sheriff in Clayton County from 1985 to 2001 and, before that, a police officer in Garnavillo, a small town of about 750 people east of Elkader.
In a statement released on Thursday, Clayton County Sheriff Mike Tschirgi called the former sheriff an “original”.
“He was a hands-on sheriff who was always on the road answering calls and took great pride in his job,” Tschirgi wrote. “He was a father-figure role model for all law enforcement that served under him.”
The job of a sheriff also involves consoling people during the worst moments. Twenty years ago, then-Sheriff Dietrich endured the unthinkable experience of losing a child in a high-profile case.
His adult son, Brian Dietrich, disappeared in 1993 in Clayton County. Searchers found his body near the Mississippi River seven months later. The sheriff in a neighboring Wisconsin county, the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department, reopened the investigation in 2009 but no arrests were made.
Funeral services for former Sheriff Verdean Dietrich are scheduled for next week, with visitation from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 1 at Tuecke-Allyn Funeral Home in Garnavillo. The funeral will follow on Monday, June 2 at 10 a.m. at the Garnavillo School Gymnasium with burial at the Guttenberg City Cemetery.
With a legacy in law enforcement over the decades, Kathy Scherf at the Thoma Dairy Bar Café said Dietrich was a regular.
“I remember his sense of humor and his teasing and he always brought a smile to your face.”
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