BOX ELDER COUNTY - Ellen Cook, Headliner Media Specialist, February 18, 2022
Dale Ward, Box Elder County Chief Deputy Sheriff, knows all about change. He has seen it, he has experienced it and he has embraced it, especially during his 45 years in law enforcement.
“Change is inevitable,” he says. “And I’ve been, I feel, very accepting of change.”
Ward got his first taste of change growing up on a farm in Woodruff, Idaho, near Malad. It was his ideal life, one he hoped to continue into adulthood.
“We did crops and raised cattle,” he said. “I spent a lot of time horseback up in the Samaria Mountains rounding cows up, plowing fields, weeding fields and harvesting fields. That’s what I was going to do for a living. Growing up on a farm is priceless. It’s a wonderful life.”
In high school, Ward was active in FFA, earned a State Farmer degree, and was District Star Farmer for the Southeast Idaho District.
By the time he graduated from Malad High School in 1974, however, running the family farm did not seem profitable. The equipment needed replacing and the hopeful young farmer-to-be knew the money was not there to make that happen.
“So, I went to work,” he said.
He began at a local dealership working on the farm equipment he could not afford, which kept him at least tied to the lifestyle he loved. When that ended, he changed directions again and went to work in Logan with his brother repairing motorcycles and snowmobiles for a company. The two eventually bought that operation and became partners.
But in 1976, a dry winter cut hard into the fledgling business’ profits. “We worked on more motorcycles than snowmobiles,” he recalled. “It got to the point where we needed to start looking for jobs.”
They decided that both would hunt the job market and the first to find one would take it while the other tried to keep the repair business going. When things turned around, they would join back up.
Ward found work first.
‘I picked up the local paper. They were advertising for a deputy sheriff.” He had visions of the lawmen on horseback in TV westerns he had watched as a kid, and thought, “I could be that guy.”
At 20, however, he wasn’t old enough. Not to be deterred, he put in an application, but told his interviewers that this would just be temporary because he was headed back to being a repairman. Even at that, Ward was hired, although his new boss, Oneida County Sheriff Ken Wharton told him to keep his age quiet for the next month until his 21st birthday.
“I was a local kid, I was fairly well known, my family was well known and had a good reputation, so that’s the reason he took a chance,” Ward said. “He told me in private one time that he thought it was a lot easier to keep an eye on me with me working for him than it was to chase me all over town.”
Ward said there was a little truth in that remark and going from a rowdy on Friday night to donning a uniform on Monday morning was a change that did not set well with some in his circle.
“I lost a lot of friends,” he admits. “It was tough and a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
That aside, Ward said he really enjoyed the work and was eager to learn all he could about his new profession. That quest for knowledge is something that has stuck with him throughout his law enforcement career.
“I have never passed up an opportunity to learn something new,” he said. “Never walked away from it, never asked my people to do something I didn’t know what to do myself so the first time around I would do it myself and then pass it on.”
The deputy job became permanent when the repair business did not make a full recovery. So, in October of 1977, Ward attended the Police Academy in Pocatello for five weeks. His thought was “if I’m going to jump into this, I’m going to jump in whole hog.”
With that, his “short time gig” turned in to 45 years in uniform.
He remained with that department for eight and a half years. Another change came in 1985, when he made the move to Box Elder County as a patrol deputy under then Sheriff Bob Limb. He crossed the Idaho/Utah border with the hope of getting into investigations, an area he loves. “I hated traffic, I hated chasing taillights, I hated traffic accidents investigations. I didn’t want to do that anymore.”
Because of the close connections between Oneida and Box Elder departments, Ward had already worked with many of the deputies here. The switch seemed natural.
“I could see the opportunity to move and get strictly into investigations and avoid all the traffic enforcement and all that kind of stuff,” he said.
He admits it was a bit of a battle to get his Utah certification without going through the Police Academy again but scoring the highest on the test they made him take, as well as moving from his hometown to Brigham City, cemented his spot with the local sheriff’s department.
Since then, he has worked under three other sheriffs, Leon Jensen (who he unsuccessfully ran against for that position twice), Lynn Yeates and current sheriff, Kevin Potter, who selected him as chief deputy sheriff in 2015, when he took office.
Although much of the time he has had his wish and been involved in the investigations end of law enforcement, Ward has also been a patrol deputy, over court security and worked with the extensive computer system, helping to set up the new operation when the jail moved from Main Street to is current location. He even had the opportunity to attend the National FBI Academy in 2000, “an experience I would do over and over again,” he stated. He has worked with Search and Rescue, the Scuba team and the Sheriff’s Posse, all volunteer groups who “a Sheriff’s Office would be lost without.”
Ward feels his choice of careers has been a great one, albeit not the one he would have chosen back on the farm. Oh, there have been challenging cases with good endings, like a Corinne kidnapping he doggedly worked on “from front to back,” until a conviction was made. But there have also been cases that still haunt him and have yet to be solved and those cases where, he feels, “justice has never been served.”
But through it all, one thing has made his badge time memorable.
“It’s the people,” he said. “I like talking to folks. I like visiting and I can get along with most,” adding that the people here are some of the best around.
“The environment in Box Elder County is not the same as it is even in Salt Lake City. Our citizens love us. And I love the people here. They have been a great support even when I have made a perceived mistake. It is always fantastic to get a phone call or a little card in the mail that says thank you. I am very proud of my career as a deputy sheriff.”
He said those officers coming up through the ranks would do well to remember who they work for.
“We have a reputation here of serving people really well, solving the problem. Just keep doing that. Keep what we have worked so hard to get and keep the people on your side. Treat them well because they treat you well.”
With that said Ward is ready for yet another change. On March 1, he will take off his treasured badge and ride off into the proverbial sunset with his wife, Martha, of whom he says, "I would not be where I am today without her patience, help and listening ear." The ride will take them as far as South Carolina, so the two can spend time with Martha’s 98-year-old father.
An open house in Ward’s honor will be held March 1, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the County Courthouse (Commission Chambers). 01 South Main, Brigham City. The public, who he has tirelessly served for nearly half a century, is invited to attend and wish he well in his new venture.