A Minnesota law enforcement officer who died 82 years ago in the line of duty will be honored for the first time Tuesday in a State Capitol ceremony.
Olaf Pearson Lofquist, a state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officer, was headed to the courthouse to testify in a poaching case on Jan. 4, 1936, when his vehicle was hit by a passenger train in the east-central Minnesota community of Aitkin. But his death in the line of duty went unnoticed until recently.
Last fall, a DNR lieutenant was going through some old agency records when he unearthed the file that said: "O.P. Lofquist, killed accidentally, January 4th, 1936."
Lt. Pat Znajda, in the DNR enforcement division, said Monday the discovery inspired him to dig deeper into agency records, leading him to realize that "it seems that a lot of [early] history really seems kind of sketchy. Records weren't kept then the way they are now."
The lieutenant tracked down one of Lofquist's grandchildren and collected more nuggets from the Minnesota Historical Society and a local news account of the crash.
Author and retired lawyer Robert "Obie" Holmen, one of Lofquist's grandchildren, had posted a detailed online account in 2012 of Lofquist's emigration from Sweden in 1912 on a sister ship of the Titanic, his service in the Army as well as specifics about his death.
"Olaf was a passenger in a car driven by another [officer] as they headed to court … to testify in a trial of poachers they had arrested," wrote Holmen, who lives in Plymouth. "The car skidded on ice into the path of a train, and Olaf was killed."
Lofquist, 41, who had been with the DNR for 9½ years at the time, left behind a wife expecting a sixth daughter amid the Great Depression.
Znajda recalled that sharing Lofquist's history with the family of the Moose Lake-based officer was "a sad and gratifying feeling all at the same time. … They were happy that he's being recognized. It's definitely long overdue.
"Hopefully, we're correcting something that was passed up in history and we can make something right."
With several descendants in attendance, Lofquist's name will be read Tuesday, National Law Enforcement Day, to honor all 280 officers killed in the line of duty in Minnesota.
Lofquist "died doing what conservation officers in Minnesota have done every day since the late 1800s — protecting our state's natural resources," said Col. Rodmen Smith, director of enforcement for the DNR, which has lost 21 officers in the line of duty. "It's a stark reminder of the risks our officers take each day when they put on their uniforms and head into the field."
Tuesday's annual candlelight ceremony will be at the state's Law Enforcement Memorial near the Capitol in St. Paul. William Mathews, 47, the Wayzata police officer who was run over in early September while clearing debris, will also be recognized.
Holmen said he and others in his family "were kind of expecting something would happen sooner or later; and OK, finally something is happening" to give his grandfather his rightful recognition.
Two of Lofquist's daughters are still living — one in Oregon and another in Louisiana — but unable to make Tuesday's ceremony. However, Holmen and seven others in the family will be there to pay their respects to an ancestor they never met.
"As I've been telling this story," Holmen said, "there are times when I tear up. … I know this would have meant so much to my mother and her sisters."