Martin DesLauriers became constable in the then-farming community of Eagan Township in 1951, a time when the toughest crimes were neighbors’ fence disputes and renegade cows.
His home phone was law enforcement’s hotline. His wife, Marie, was the de facto dispatcher. His personal car doubled as the squad car when he grabbed the red light inside and attached it to the roof.
DesLauriers went on to become the godfather of the Eagan Police Department. He was its first official police chief in 1965, a mentor to its officers, and took leadership roles in local and state police associations. He was an Eagan city historian, to boot.
DesLauriers, 87, died July 13 of complications from a stroke.
“He really built the police department to what it is today,” said former Eagan Police Chief Pat Geagan. “He set the tone for the other chiefs. When I was appointed police chief, I often thought, ‘What would Martin do?’ ”
DesLauriers was one of 10 children born to Margaret and Louis DesLauriers. His family were descendants of the 19th-century pioneers who settled in the area. With a deep history in the community and dozens of relatives, DesLauriers was asked to become the town constable at the ripe age of 20.
He was a one-man show through the 1950s, a time during which he married Marie and adopted the first of three children. It wasn’t until 1965 that Eagan created an official police department, including its first police vehicle and two part-time officers. DesLauriers, as chief, earned a whopping $3 an hour, according to the department’s historians.
DesLauriers would park the town’s first squad car — a 1965 Ford station wagon — at night in a barn on his farm on Yankee Doodle Drive, said Geagan.
DesLauriers remained police chief until 1983, as the sleepy rural community was transformed into a fast-growing Twin Cities suburb. He remained active in the community in the decades ahead.
Jayne and Anne DesLauriers remember their dad’s lifestyle when they were young girls.
“One time he was picking us up and a call came in,” Jayne DesLauriers said. “He told us to lay in the back, and put the red light on top of the car, and away we went! It was like [the TV show] ‘Mayberry R.F.D.’ ”
DesLauriers served and mentored police along the way. He was a former chairman of the Dakota County Law Enforcement Association and former member of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said his daughters.
After retirement, DesLauriers started a real estate sales and management company called Dakota Central Ltd., his daughters said. He and his wife became snowbirds, heading to Arizona each winter, and he enjoyed spending time with family, golfing and playing bridge when back home.
DesLauriers became a historian for the city of Eagan, in particular for its police department, and is quoted in many articles on the history of the region.
“He was an amazing storyteller and had an amazing memory,” Jayne DesLauriers said. “If anyone needed to know something, they’d call my dad. He loved history. He loved being part of the fabric of the growth of Eagan.”
Geagan agreed. DesLauriers “knew everyone in town,” he said, “and a lot of people called him for advice.”
“We’re going to have a big hole in the history of Eagan now,” Geagan said.
In addition to daughters Jayne of Boston and Anne of Ely, Minn., DesLauriers is survived by a son, Paul DesLauriers of Osakis, Minn., and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be held July 20 at St. John Neumann Church in Eagan, with visitation starting at 9:30 a.m.