For the first time in 30 years, the re-election signs for Sheriff Ralph “Buster” Talbot were out in force.
No, Talbot, who served as Anoka County Sheriff for 26 years (1960-1986), the longest tenure of any sheriff in the county’s history, is not running for re-election. The signs were part of an event by Anoka County Historical Society to honor him Sept. 20.
Before and after dinner at the Courtyards of Andover, the 500 members of Talbot’s family, his friends and supporters could relive some of the memories from Talbot’s life in pictures and memorabilia, including getting their photo taken with a life-size cut out of the sheriff in his prime.
Following dinner, five of Talbot’s friends took to the microphone and shared stories from Talbot’s time as sheriff as well as stories of the man, some of them a little on the salty side.
“We are here in celebration of the incredible career he has had,” said Dick Beens, master of ceremonies and retired Anoka County public defender.
But it is only a small portion of Talbot’s story. “It is not the Buster Talbot most of us knew,” Beens said. “There was some confusion in early days as it was not clear if Buster was running the sheriff’s office or running a real estate business.”
For Beens, a newly minted attorney in 1968, Talbot became his landlord.
While he no longer remembers who referred him to Talbot, he does remember that one day in 1969 a neighbor was walking around the house and informed him that Talbot had sold him the house. “Hasn’t he told you,” the man said to Beens.
Beens, his wife and his six-month-old daughter found themselves looking for a new home.
As a criminal attorney, Beens said he remembers one client that got special attention from Talbot.
During a meeting with his client in the sheriff’s office client-attorney conference room, his client was desperate to get out of jail, according to Beens.
The man wanted out because he was bored, there were bad people in there and the food was really, really bad, Beens said. “Five minutes later there was a knock on the door and low and behold it was the sheriff,” he said.
After a bit of small talk with Beens, Talbot turns to the client, gives him a love tap and asks him if “they were feeding you OK,” Beens said. “I am sure it was just coincidental,” he said.
For former Anoka County Administrator Ralph McGinley, his relationship with Talbot started in 1975.
As a new administrator, he sat down with Talbot for about a hour-and-a-half and explained how the county budget worked, McGinley said.
While Talbot thanked him for taking the time to explain things and coming to Anoka County, Talbot informed McGinley that when he needed more deputies or new cars, he just called County Commissioner Ed Fields and he would take care of it, he said.
A few years later Undersheriff Don Dwyer, who was the former Minneapolis chief of police, took over the administrative duties of the sheriff’s department.
One day McGinley received a call from Anoka Police Chief Andy Revering, who wanted to make a formal complaint and wanted the county board to take action on the complaint, McGinley said.
After the streets of Anoka turned into the wild west with guns blazing and police sirens blasting for an hour as the Anoka police tried to deal with a stray steer from the Anoka slaughter plant, the Anoka County Highway Department’s cattle crossing signs showed up in town.
Revering believed it was Talbot’s men that placed those signs throughout Anoka, several of them in front of the police station, McGinley said.
That day a sheriff’s car came in with a cracked windshield and Dwyer ordered the car to be driven and parked in Anoka, Beens said.
The plan was to bill Anoka for the damage done to the car by the random gun shots, said Beens, who was a witness to the shoot out.
Talbot had a humanitarian side, McGinley said. Any tradesman, electrician or carpenter that drank and drove in Anoka County would find themselves working at the Sheriff’s Boys Ranch in Isanti County, he said.
The Anoka Lions Club, which bought several tables at the dinner because it wanted to see what Talbot looked like because he has missed so many meetings, also helped at the ranch because Talbot asked them to, said Ray Rudrud, retired Connexus Energy chief financial officer.
For former Anoka County Commissioner Dick Lang, Talbot provided some unusual help to his county board campaign.
“I did not have a good photo of me for my campaign poster, so Buster ran down to the booking room and got my booking photo and cut the number off,” Lang said.
Lang asked for the sheriff’s help when he did not have enough election signs. Later the sheriff’s car pulls up and drops off a bunch of Dick Lang signs.
When he ask Talbot where he got the signs, Talbot gruffly told him to never mind, Lang said.
One of Talbot’s election opponents for sheriff was a former Coon Rapids Police officer, also named Dick Lang.
Talbot listened to everyone’s concerns and tried to know everyone personally, Lang said. “Buster is a great guy and is number one in my heart, even though he only claims to like me for my wife,” he said.
“He’s right. I only liked him for his wife,” Talbot said.
When Talbot’s predecessor Sheriff Mike Auspos resigned in 1960, Bob Pulscher, who was the Coon Rapids city manager at the time, was asked for his opinion on who the Anoka County Board should appoint.
The other candidate was far superior to Talbot and that is who he recommended, Pulscher said.
But the board promptly ignored his advice and appointed the 30-year-old Talbot. “It was a good thing they did,” Pulscher said.
Talbot began to make impressive changes in the sheriff’s office, including hiring on what the candidate knew and not who they knew, and promoting on merit, he said.
Talbot also argued with the county board about funding for personnel and proper equipment, Pulscher said.
The sheriff’s office really began to shape up, he said.
In 1970, Pulscher, who was then working for Springsted, Inc., introduced Talbot to Dwyer.
With Talbot’s distaste for administrators, the pair called the county administrator on a Friday and warned him that a large resident group would be coming to the county board meeting the following week to protest something, according to Pulscher.
After the man had worried about the situation all weekend, they called him on Monday and told him everything was sorted out, he said.
They later pulled the same prank on the county commissioners, Pulscher said.
While Talbot’s friends told stories of his career, Tim Talbot told stories of his father’s beginnings and family life.
His father was one of eight children and he learned his work ethic working on the family’s farm, said the younger Talbot.
By the age of four, Talbot was helping to milk the cows, he said.
Buster also worked for the railroad and built his first house by the time he was 18, Tim Talbot said.
By the time he was 30, Buster had built seven houses and they are still standing, he said.
After serving in the U.S. Army National Guard from 1950-1952, Buster returned to Anoka and worked several jobs.
When his uncle Don Clark died in a car accident, Buster stepped in to be a father for his seven kids, said Tim Talbot.
Talbot was dedicated to public service and treated people fairly, he said.
And he could never say no. He would get hundreds of calls and helped people find jobs and even dug into his own pocket to help people, Tim Talbot said.
In addition to raising his own six children, Talbot also helped start the Anoka Ice Arena, sponsored baseball teams and created the Sheriff’s Boys Ranch in the 1970s, he said.
“It is nice see a lot of old friends and supporters as well as non-supporters in the crowd,” Talbot said.
It was never his intention to go into law enforcement, but his sister and her husband Don Clark, encouraged him to apply, Talbot said.
With the sheriff’s deputy application period closing, Talbot went to see Auspos on the way home, he said.
The way Talbot told the story, he showed up to Auspos’ home covered in cement dust and informed the sheriff that he was not sure he would like the job but he would try it out.
“Some have said the only reason Mike hired me was to keep an eye on me,” Talbot said.
After being appointed sheriff in Auspos’ place, Talbot said he worked on improving the radio system.
They had a system that made it hard for the right hand to know what the left hand was doing, Talbot said.
He also established the first major crimes investigation unit and the volunteer ranger unit for people interested in law enforcement as well as the horse patrol, he said.
He was also the first to put a woman in a patrol car.
“I was against it, not because it was woman, but out of concern (for) the safety of any officer touring that large area alone,” Talbot said.
“I am the luckiest guy in the world. In addition to being born Irish, I was born in this great county into a Christian family.”
“I had a wonderful wife, Katherine, for 53 years and six great children (and their) spouses and children.”
“I have had the great privilege of serving the people of Anoka County for 26 years. My longevity is all your fault. You kept voting for me for which I am forever grateful.”
Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]