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Pierce County Corporation Counsel Brad Lawrence reading a commendation U.S. Congressman Ron Kind gave on the House floor, honoring Neil Gulbranson's 39 years.
<i>Jason Schulte photos</i>
Pierce County Corporation Counsel Brad Lawrence reading a commendation U.S. Congressman Ron Kind gave on the House floor, honoring Neil Gulbranson's 39 years. <i>Jason Schulte photos</i>

Gulbranson turns in badge after 39 years

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government River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Last week could have possibly been the longest week of Neil Gulbranson's career with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.

The humble Gulbranson spent more time than he would ever like accepting congratulations and good luck, as last week was his final week with the department after 39 years, the last 27 as chief deputy.

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"Keep it short," he said Thursday before former Board Chairman Paul Barkla presented him a U.S. flag flown over the Capitol.

His fellow workers thought differently.

"I have been searching for the right words to say about Neil and all I can come up with is 'WOW,'" said current Sheriff Nancy Hove. "Whoever takes his place will have some very big shoes to fill. Neil has been the backbone of the sheriff's department for many years. It is a great loss, but we are very happy for him. All I can say is 'Thank You'!"

Added Lieutenant Mike Waltz: "One of the things I will always remember about Neil is how he was like a father to everybody that worked at the sheriff's department. His concern went far beyond just making sure that people were doing their job and that things were going OK at work. He was always one to give encouragement and advice, especially to new or even prospective employees."

Gulbranson started out in 1973 full-time (worked previously part-time for two years), as he was one of five hired, thanks to a recommendation from an ex-FBI agent who informed the county board the department was short-staffed and needed more personnel.

"My dad said I could take over his locker plant business in the (Ellsworth) East End when he retired," the lifelong Ellsworth resident said. "I said no thanks -- I wanted to be a cop."

He started out on the road and bounced around the department until 1985, when former Sheriff Jim Hines offered Gulbranson chief deputy.

Gulbranson said there were a couple of times since he could have left, but decided in the early 1990's chief deputy was the spot for him.

"I never wanted to be sheriff," he said. Gulbranson has worked under six: Roy Simenson, Wally Mehlberg, Stan Christenson, Hines, Everett Muhlhausen and Hove. "It takes a special person to be sheriff."

Gulbranson said, with the advances in technology, it has made some aspects of his job harder.

"One of the hardest parts is you always have to be available 24/7," he said. "You never get a break."

Gulbranson's duties as chief deputy have been to assist the sheriff in personnel, policy and budgetary matters, foster relationships with other county departments, local law enforcement agencies and, especially, the county board.

"I have a good working relationship with the county board over the years," he said. "They have been frugal, but tried to be realistic with us."

He also admits to playing the role of disciplinarian within the department when it's been needed.

"Have I had to be a 'father figure'? Sure," he said. "When we have had disciplinarian problems, we don't make a big deal about them and move on. Most of the time, the employees have become better over the years.

"Our department has a good bunch of caring employees."

Gulbranson and wife Sue, who works at Bank Mutual, are the parents of three grown daughters and one granddaughter. He's unsure on future plans, with the exception of remaining a Village of Ellsworth Board Member, which he has done since 2003.

"I will look for a part-time job, especially in the winter time because I will go nuts if I don't," he said.

He admitted leaving was a hard decision, but he's ready.

"I delayed this for about a year," he said. "But this is turning into a young guys' job with the technology and physical aspects as well."

He went on to say his successor, Jason Matthys, "is a good and wonderful guy" who hopes he'll be with the sheriff's department for the rest of his career.

"Pierce County has been very good to me," Gulbranson said. "They have treated me well. It is a good community to live in."

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