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Gayl Tutje
Gayl Tutje

Gayl gets out of jail: Longtime Osceola County Sheriff's Office employee retires

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Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

SIBLEY, Iowa -- After more than 23 years behind bars, Gayl Tutje has finally gotten paroled.

In this case, the parole is the result of retirement. Gayl has fully served out her sentence as a dispatcher-jailer for Osceola County and officially begins her retirement today.

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"I don't know what I'm going to do," she admitted on one of her final days of work. "Everybody keeps asking me that. I guess I'll do what I've always done -- go to all the school activities, drink a lot of coffee at The Lantern, maybe play some cards."

Gayl's law enforcement career began in September 1989. Before that, she'd mainly been a farm wife and mother. A 1951 graduate of Worthington High School, she met husband-to-be Chris "Bud" Tutje on a blind date while still in high school.

"My friend was dating a kid from Sibley, and Bud brought him up to meet her," Gayl remembered about their first encounter. "Her boyfriend was going to meet her parents for the first time, so she wanted me to be there for support. I was actually supposed to have a date with another guy that night."

A plan to attend the local junior college got sidetracked when Gayl was offered a job as a secretary for a Worthington lawyer who was also serving in the state legislature at the time.

"I worked for him from 1951 to 1953, and also at Ahlf's Drugstore as a soda jerk," Gayl said. "I started at Ahlf's when I was 14 and worked there all through high school. I loved working there, except for doing the hand-packed ice cream. That was hard work."

Then-boyfriend Bud joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed in California.

"We went out to see him, and he decided I should just stay, so we got married out there. I don't think he ever really proposed. We just assumed we'd get married."

The Tutjes' oldest son and daughter, David and Kris, were born on the West Coast; son Daryl followed nine years later, after the couple returned to northwest Iowa.

"We farmed. That was always the plan," said Gayl, who even though she was a city girl adapted easily to farm life. "I'd had a horse, so I knew how to clean barns, take care of livestock. His dad didn't think I'd stay a year, and I stayed there 30-some years.

"I could have dogs and horses and chickens and ducks. Well, I hated chickens, but that's beside the point," she continued. "I did the farm records, did some volunteer work -- was secretary for the saddle club, stuff like that."

In addition to farming, Bud was in a band for more than 20 years, playing gigs throughout the region, and Gayl often tagged along.

"That was every weekend," she said. "The Siestas was probably the band he was best known for. He was lead singer and played rhythm guitar. I think he picked that up in the Navy, probably on the ship. They played in Worthington a lot -- the VFW, Eagles Club, the old Coliseum -- but they went as far as Marshall and Sioux Falls, maybe Sheldon. But mostly they played the little bars up in Minnesota every Saturday."

The Tutjes' lives changed quite drastically when Bud received a devastating diagnosis -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), aka Lou Gehrig's disease.

"Bud and the boys had a room out in the barn where they would lift weights," recalled Gayl about how his symptoms started. "Then the boys started running, and he had trouble doing that. Then it got so he would get exhausted walking through the snow to the barn."

An initial physical turned up nothing, but when Bud began to get debilitating cramps in his legs, he was sent to a neurologist in Sioux Falls.

"They called him into the office, and 10 minutes later the doctor called me back," Gayl said. "They didn't waste any time, told us what he had. It was probably the worst day of my life."

With little treatment for ALS, the Tutjes were told to "go home and do what you can do." As Bud's condition deteriorated, he required the use of crutches and finally a wheelchair, but he continued to play in the band and lift weights for as long as he could. He died four years and four months after his initial diagnosis, in July 1989.

A short stint at a restaurant convinced Gayl that she wasn't cut out for the food service industry, and she began looking around for another job. Son Daryl's best friend, Kevin Wollmuth, was a deputy for the sheriff's department and mentioned there might be an opening. After talking to then-sheriff Bob Rolfes, she was hired.

"It's a challenge, and I like a challenge," said Gayl. "And it's interesting, never the same thing twice. No two days are the same.

"When I started, I would work all three shifts, and each one was different. Probably the most interesting was 4 to midnight. You'd work two days 8 to 4, two days 4 to midnight, two days midnight to 8. I did that for 10 years."

Although it's a distinction that makes her wrinkle her nose and frown, in 2008 Gayl was recognized as the oldest dispatcher working in Iowa.

When Gayl first mentioned the possibility of retirement a few years ago, Sheriff Doug Weber convinced her to stay on part-time, and her working hours were set for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. That suited Gayl just fine, as the schedule allowed her to keep up with the activities of grandsons Josh and Eric at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School. Her other two grandchildren, Travis and Chris, live in Des Moines, Iowa.

As a dispatcher-jailer, Gayl deals with just about everybody who walks into or calls the sheriff's office. The requests range from applications for gun permits to extreme emergency situations.

"Fire, ambulance, 911 -- anything that happens in the county, we have to dispatch whoever is needed," she said. "And we're the information bureau if somebody needs a phone number."

One of her most memorable days on duty came on a Sunday morning when lightning hit a tower outside the office.

"We had no radio, no telephone," she recalled. "I went out and got my cell phone and called Lyon County and told them they were going to have to handle our calls for a while. We had to work on a car radio for a long time before we out the new system put in."

On major holidays, Gayl often volunteered to work so her co-workers could be at home with their families.

"I always worked every Christmas," she said, after spending Christmas Eve with her son's family. "My daughter comes down and has dinner with me and always posts on Facebook that she's 'Going to jail to visit my mother.'

"I was just told last night that they were going to miss me on holidays, because when I do the pager tests, I always say 'Merry Christmas,'" she added.

SWeber said that one of Gayl's biggest strengths in doing her job was that she knew so many people in the county, sometimes even identifying them by voice over the phone. But knowing so many people also made her job especially tough a few times when tragedy struck.

"One day we had a fatality, and they didn't know who it was," Gayl recounted. "But the deputy called back the license plate, and it came back to a good friend of mine. I dealt with it that day until I walked out the door. Then it just hit me. But you have to separate yourself from it while you're at work."

While the work they do is serious, there are times when Gayl has to suppress a giggle in the course of her job, too.

"Belligerent people are entertaining," she observed. "One guy called in because he had an emergency, and I told him he could have called 911. He said, 'I would have called 911, but I couldn't remember the number.'"

As she anticipates no longer donning a uniform or monitoring her home scanner, Gayl reflected on the aspects of the job that she won't miss.

"Going out in the cold early in the morning," she listed. "The physical training, tactical maneuvers. Continuing education. If I had to walk in here now and learn everything that I've learned, I'd walk right back out."

But Gayl also knows that she will miss interacting with her co-workers on a daily basis.

"The people I work with are my favorite part of the job," she said.

An open house retirement party for Gayl Tutje is planned for 9 to 11 a.m. Friday at The Lantern in Sibley.

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.

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Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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