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Dispatcher retires after 33-plus years with Rock County Sheriff’s Office

LUVERNE -- For more than 33 years, Terri Ebert's voice was the one people in Rock County heard when they called 911 in a panic. She was the voice of calm in their storm, sending out help for everything from fires and crashes to domestic situation...

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Terri Ebert, employed by the Rock County Sheriff's Office as a dispatcher and dispatch supervisor, will retire at the end of this month after more than 33 years with the department. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

LUVERNE - For more than 33 years, Terri Ebert’s voice was the one people in Rock County heard when they called 911 in a panic. She was the voice of calm in their storm, sending out help for everything from fires and crashes to domestic situations and life or death circumstances.

“If I’d kept better journals, I could have written a book - people would not believe some of the things that go on,” Ebert says now as she nears the end of her career with the Rock County Sheriff’s Office. Her last day on the job is Dec. 30.

Ebert spent much of her career working as a dispatch supervisor and handling records as an administrative assistant. Her role, like that of fellow dispatchers, is to protect the public and answer 911 calls.

“The dispatcher’s job can be hours of boredom and moments of terror,” Ebert said. “You can sit there all night and then, all of a sudden, you can get calls at the end of the night that are life-and-death types of calls. You don’t sleep when you get home because you’re thinking about them.”

During her tenure in Rock County, Ebert worked with five sheriffs, including Ole Hommen, Ed Elbers, Ron McClure, Mike Winkels and current sheriff Evan Verbrugge.

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Just as the role of sheriff changed over the years, so too did the face of criminals and victims.

“Things were easier and harder back when I started,” Ebert shared. “You didn’t have as many reported domestics. Back in the day, you didn’t get a DWI if you drove home from the bar unless you did some flagrant violation. These days, you get charged with a lot more. It’s a lot more paperwork.

“It’s not fun - it never was real fun. It was always a very interesting job,” she added. “It’s just gotten harder. The older I get (the harder it is) to take some of those 911 calls and to deal with some of the people that we deal with, because it’s a lot of the same people.”

While she may not have written down many of the experiences she has had on the job, there are a few memorable stories Ebert shared about working in dispatch.

The first, a call that came in long before the advent of 911, was when someone called in and said, “My house is on fire!” before hanging up the call. She and another dispatcher got up from their stations and looked out the window for any signs of smoke.

When the caller realized he didn’t give the address, he called again.

“You get so you recognize people’s voices,” Ebert said. “We got one call from a mother who was so panicked because her son had been blowing up a balloon and when it sucked back in his throat it got caught.

“She was so rattled she didn’t know her address. We recognized her voice and I believe she told us her name. We just happened to have two officers within a couple blocks. They went and one did the Heimlich maneuver and the other pulled the balloon out,” Ebert recalled. The 4-year-old boy survived, and it taught Ebert a valuable lesson with her own children - balloons are not to be played with.

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Ebert and her husband, Chuck, had three young daughters when she applied for the job in dispatch and began her career in 1983. Chuck, along with her in-laws, Vance and Doris Ebert, helped with the girls when she worked overnight shifts or received a late-night call to come in.

For the first 23 years of her career, Ebert worked inside the old law enforcement center, which was later renovated and now serves as home to the Brandenburg Gallery, Herreid Military Museum and Luverne Area Chamber of Commerce office.

The move to their new facility on Blue Mound Avenue in January 2007 brought with it new technology and enhanced security.

“I was the first person to work in this building during the changeover,” Ebert said, noting her fellow dispatcher, Gordy Bremer, was the last dispatcher to work a shift in the old setting. Incidentally, Bremer retired with the longest tenure as a Rock County dispatcher after 36 years. Ebert said her 33-plus years in Rock County dispatch is likely the second longest.

“When we were in the old jail, we were like a family,” she said, noting that at the time, Luverne also had a police department and they all worked together. “When we came here, we had more room and got better equipment, but things are different. Now they have different shifts … they have a regular night shift and day shift.”

At one point during her career, Ebert said the department had gone 22 years without a change in dispatch staff.

“We just had real good dispatchers and everyone wanted to stick around,” she said. “In recent years, we’ve had a lot of changeover - young people who have gotten married and moved on or have gone on to other things.

“We have a real good batch right now of dispatchers,” she added. “They’re wonderful - I know that they’re going to make a career of it. It takes a special person to be able to handle all this - the hours and the stress.”

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For all the hours that were stressful, Ebert said there were moments where she felt like she was making an impact.

“I think one of the most satisfying things that ever happened to me was we had a young girl who was about 13 that was a habitual runaway and in trouble all the time,” Ebert shared. “She had her hair about four different colors and shaved on one side. She came into our office several times, and I had to sit with her a few times. I told her if she lived at my house, she would not be allowed to do that. She would have a curfew, she would have to be home for meals. She said, ‘I wish I had something like that.’

“Several years later, she came back and she asked to see me and I did not recognize this person. She was beautiful,” Ebert added. She learned the girl had been taken away from her mother, raised by relatives and went through college with a B-plus average.

“She said, ‘I made something of myself … I have never forgotten that conversation we had,’ and I thought, ‘Wow.’”

Said Ebert, “Most of the time you try and help people - if they want to be helped.”

Throughout her career, Ebert found a way to deal with the stresses at work by being involved in her community. She serves on the Green Earth Players community theater board and has played numerous roles in GEP productions since 1985. She also rings bells in church and helps plan the live nativity, is a member of a pinochle group, joined Bookin’ Buddies - a program with second-graders at Luverne Elementary - and also enjoys reading and is “on the go all the time.”

“I’ve got to learn how to say no - I haven’t learned to do that yet,” she said. “I intend to stay busy in retirement.”

Staying busy includes spending more time with her family, which includes her three daughters, their husbands and four grandchildren. Her husband died in 2002. She also has a list of things she wants to get done, and plans to be more involved with Green Earth Players. Perhaps there will be time to take some shorter trips along the way.

On Ebert’s last day of work, coffee and cake will be served from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Rock County Law Enforcement Center. The public is invited to attend.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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