A life in Blue
On the afternoon of June 19, 2017, Fort Dodge Police Capt. Bob Thode made one last call on his radio.
It was heard and recorded in the Webster County Communications Center by the other officers on duty and anyone with an ear turned to the local scanner traffic.
“It’s been an honor serving with all of you,” he said before a short pause. “I’m 10-42.”
10-42 means “end of shift.”
In Thode’s case, it was his last shift on the streets in a three decade law enforcement career.
His first day of work was Feb. 28, 1982.
He was first attracted to law enforcement for two reasons.
“The excitement of the job and being able to help people.” he said.
His first week on the job tossed him from the frying pan into the fire.
“I got to guard a homicide crime scene,” he said. “It was my first instance with death. As a brand new rookie on the PD, the word eerie would be the term I would use.”
One of the changes in law enforcement during Thode’s career is in the level of training. He said there’s much more of it now and, as a captain, helping pass on that knowledge and experience to the younger officers was one of the aspects of the job that he greatly enjoyed.
“We try to show them more than one way to do the job,” he said. “We give them guidance and hope they make the right decisions if something happens.”
Even after three decades, he still doesn’t hesitate to recommend law enforcement as a career.
“Law enforcement is an exciting job,” he said.
His recommendation does come with a “but.”
“When you get older,” he said, “It’s not that exciting. It’s a bit scary. My biggest fear is something happening to the young officers.”
One of Thode’s proudest accomplishments in his career isn’t so much what’s happened to him on job but what’s not happened to him off the job.
“I’m most proud of the fact I was able to stay married for 33 years to the same woman,” he said. “We had quite the understanding kids.”
Lost family time is his only real regret.
“They missed out on a lot of things,” he said. “I spent a lot, and I mean a lot, of time on the night shift.”
Thode has three things on his list of “What would I do different?”
“Number one, working on a roof and falling off.” he said.
“Number two, using a wood splitter.” said while holding up the hand that allows him to count to 4 and a half.
His final item is much more serious.
“Me and Fort Dodge firefighters Jeff Hill and Ron Hedeen took the elevator at the Wahkonsa Apartments to the fifth floor,” he said. “It was supposed to be a small fire in an apartment. We found out the floor was completely full of smoke. I have to credit those two with saving my life. If I ever thought I was going to die, that was the day.”
Of course, he would go into the building again.
“I’d do it over,” he said. “I’d just do it a little different.”
Thode has also enjoyed his nickname, “Shrek,” since the Dreamworks animated movie came out in 2001.
“The nickname was given to me by Chuck Guthrie,” he said. “Everybody has a nickname or two.”
At first it bothered him a bit — then he saw the film.
“I had never seen the movie,” he said. “I thought they’re talking about the donkey, not the old green-headed ogre.”
The nickname means that friends, family and fellow officers are never at a loss for gift giving ideas.
“I have more Shrek memorabilia,” he said. “Shrek coffee cups, Shrek ears, Shrek gloves. If they come out with another Shrek item, I get it. It all came from them.”
While Thode may be gone from the Fort Dodge Police Department, he will continue to serve the community in other ways.
He’s also a Webster County Supervisor.
He said he was inspired to run because he wanted to be part of, and help, with the ongoing growth and positive things happening in Fort Dodge and Webster County.
Thode has seen the downside.
“I grew up in Fort Dodge when meat packing was king,” he said. “I was here when the meat packing left. I saw a lot of people leave to support their families.”
Thode readily admits that he’s still learning and is quick to credit his fellow supervisors with being great teachers.
“We’ve got some really good guys on the board of supervisors,” he said. “They’ve been a lot of help. They don’t hesitate to help answer a question. It’s been extremely interesting.”
Thode also serves on the district mental health board and the Community and Family Resources board.
“I have really gotten to meet some very caring people,” he said. “They have the same goals. We try to make things better for everybody.”
In most law enforcement and other public safety encounters, most people are not having the best day of their life.
Thode recognized that and always encouraged his officers to spend time with the public and the public that they serve when they’re not in crisis.
Whether that’s a friendly chat when the officer stops for coffee or events like the ongoing Fort Dodge/Webster County Citizens Academy.
Of course, one might take the cop off the street at retirement but you can’t take the cop out of the person behind the badge.
Thode is no exception.
“I’ll probably always worry about the young officers’ safety,” he said. “No matter what.”
He also leaves them with a piece of advice, something that served him well.
“If there’s ever a moment where you think you’ve seen it all,” he said, “then something happens that changes your mind.”