Jim Trudeau, who died Nov. 16, is remembered as law enforcement officer with a big heart and calming demeanor.
Ever the optimist, Jim Trudeau considered law enforcement a safer line of work than his job of inspecting rocket fuses at Honeywell, and a 29-year career behind the badge was born.
What followed for the Forest Lake resident was an unfailing devotion to youth, especially kids in crisis, and a reputation for fair-handed treatment of everybody, regardless of their stations in life.
Notable was Trudeau’s resuscitation of a 5-year-old boy who fell through the ice on Forest Lake in 1976 and his comfort to a Bayport boy dying of a brain tumor in 1987, to whom Trudeau gave his badge.
“He didn’t get to live so I’m going to live my life a little better to take care of kids,” is what Dennis Hegberg, an old friend in Forest Lake, remembers Trudeau saying about Kelly Carmody, the 9-year-old boy in Bayport. Trudeau called Kelly his “guardian angel” and died on the same date as Kelly’s birthday.
Trudeau, 73, died Nov. 16 of congestive heart failure. He once had been Forest Lake’s police chief and served four terms as Washington County sheriff, when he led a controversial campaign to build a larger jail.
More than his career achievements, though, people who knew him well talk of his lifelong determination to help kids. Among those kids were five nephews he mentored after his brother died at a young age.
“He really did think positively about kids. He didn’t assume they were no good,” said Jeanne Walz, executive director of the Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau, which Trudeau co-founded in 1976. “Kids were meant to be taught, to be taken care of. Everything he did was about making sure kids got a second chance.”
Sheriff Bill Hutton was a young counselor at the Forest Lake agency in those early years. “He was larger than life, if you will, but when you were talking to Jim, you knew you were talking just to Jim,” said Hutton, describing Trudeau’s ability to treat every conversation as the most important that day.
Hutton said Trudeau had a knack for defusing angry people and could “melt them” into normal conversations. “He was all about people and for the people,” Hutton said.
One of Trudeau’s daughters, Kelly Novak, said he was known for his humor and often would put people at ease with it. “He was extremely levelheaded and compassionate. He used his sense of humor to talk with them and help them see the other side,” she said.
Hutton said that Trudeau was so popular as a stand-up comedian, reeling off one-liners and telling funny stories, that he was recruited as master of ceremonies for hundreds of retirements.
Hegberg was elected to the Washington County Board in the midst of Trudeau’s effort to build a bigger jail. The old jail, housed in the basement of the county building in Stillwater, had only 60 beds. The new jail would have 228 beds, and many people complained that Trudeau’s push for it insulted taxpayers.
“Jim always thought he was going to get sued for all kinds of things, because he thought it wasn’t adequate for medical needs,” Hegberg said of the old jail. In Hutton’s viewpoint, Trudeau’s vision of a larger jail was exactly right, sufficient for the county’s growth and resulting crime over the years.
Trudeau, when sheriff, also started the K-9 and SWAT programs, the Explorers Scout troop, and the county’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, Hutton said.
Novak said her dad was known as “Sheriff” even after he left office, but even more defining of his legacy was that he remained deeply involved in civic improvements until shortly before his death. He never took a salary while managing the Castlewood golf course in Forest Lake from 2007 to 2012.
“He couldn’t golf because of his medical issues, so that was his way to be with people,” she said.
Trudeau also had been executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association.