Melvin Kilbo wanted a job that allowed him to serve the public, a decision that led to a long career in law enforcement.

After getting his start with the Golden Valley Police Department in the late 1950s, he later went to the Orono Police Department where he served as chief in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kilbo died Jan. 22 of respiratory failure at his home in Mesa, Ariz. He was 89.

“His best days at work were when he could help people,” said his son, Erik Kilbo of Greenville, S.C. “He was very outgoing and friendly and public-service minded.”

Kilbo was born in Sebeka, Minn., where he graduated from high school. He went into the U.S. Army in the early 1950s, serving in the military police escorting soldiers on trains between Minneapolis and Chicago.

Kilbo worked as an electrician for a few years before deciding he needed a job with a pension, Erik Kilbo said. In 1958, he joined the Golden Valley Police Department, earning $310 a month.

He liked working there because it was a growing suburban department with lots of opportunities. Five fellow officers lived on his block, so “nobody got into trouble,” Erik Kilbo said.

Kilbo rose to detective sergeant during his 16 years with the department. He handled Stormy Tin Junior, Golden Valley’s first police dog. The animal was the great grandson of Rin Tin Tin IV, said his son. During a robbery at a bar, Kilbo was shot in the eye with a pellet gun and would later lose vision in the eye.

To advance his law enforcement career, he attended night school and earned his bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University.

When Kilbo became chief in Orono in 1975, the department had seven officers and was housed in two rooms in a house that served as City Hall.

But he commuted from Golden Valley because he couldn’t afford a home in Orono, his son said. Under his leadership, the department grew to 17 officers and moved into its own building. Eventually, Orono police would also cover the nearby cities of Long Lake, Maple Plain, Minnetonka Beach Spring Park and Mound.

Kilbo’s hardest day on the job came in 1982 when Wayzata officer James Anderson, 36, was shot and killed during a domestic violence call. The shooter ended up killing himself in a post office.

“My dad was the first one on the scene,” Erik Kilbo said. “He came home from work and just broke down and cried.”

Kilbo retired in 1991. During that year, former Gov. Arne Carlson proclaimed June 27 Melvin Kilbo Day in honor of keeping Orono safe. The state Senate passed similar resolutions. Doug Shufelt, who worked with Kilbo in Golden Valley, wrote on his funeral website memorial page that “we called him ‘Sgt. Rock’ because he was a no-nonsense guy. Loved working with him.”

During retirement, he and his wife Mary traveled across the United States in a recreation vehicle. She died five years ago.

In addition to his son Erik, Kilbo is survived by son Brian, of Lakeville. A private service was held.