Sheriff Troy Dunn Remembers John Liebenstein
Twenty five years ago today I received word Rice County Sheriff's Deputy John Liebenstein was killed in a senseless event at County Road 1 and I-35.
Sheriff Troy Dunn has written a powerful piece about keeping the deputy alive in our hearts. I will include it after a few words Troy told me when I asked him to recall the life of John Liebenstein.
I recalled John as a terrific, gentle giant of a man.
Troy responded, "Yep that's really how a lot of people remember John. A big teddy bear, gentle giant . It's hard to believe it's been 25 years."
I asked the Rice County Sheriff about John Liebenstein the officer. He replied, "John and I started very close in time with the Sheriff's Office. We actually came in together as special deputies. We used to work up at the Northfield Ballroom as security when the Sheriff's Office had to do that."
"That's how I first met John and he was a big guy and it was nice to have him there when things would go haywire with people wanting to fight or something. He was always so soft spoken. Once you met him, talked with him you could tell he truly cared and was a compassionate person."
Dunn continued, "He started as a jailer at the Sheriff's Office, moved up to deputy and I think he had the quickest jump from deputy to investigator of anybody that I can remember in the department. That just speaks that John was good at what he did. When there was a need he was willing to step in and fill that role. He did a great job in whatever role he played."
I remember John continued his love of farming. Dunn stated, "That farm and his family were always core things with him. John would travel through the county and stop to talk to farmers. I remember people told me if you ever needed help John was there to help. He would say I've got to work until 3 but I'll be there at 3:30."
A barn on the Rice County Fairgrounds is named in his honor. "He's a legend that will live on through so many things. Whether it be the 4-H program, law enforcement, his name will be on a memorial down in Rochester once that's completed. His name is on the National Law Enforcement Memorial. He is definitely missed. "
Dunn added, "His infectious smile and little chuckle would just make you smile. John was a diabetic so he couldn't have sugar but he drank Diet Mountain Dew so he always had that and I think John's the one who probably got me hooked on them. He would come to work with a case or a 12 pack of Diet Mountain Dew. That was his coffee. Thanks John for getting me hooked on that stuff."
The smile is what I remember most about John in my brief visits with him at the Rice County Courthouse. I thought he was a great guy.
Dunn stated, "That's what made him a great investigator. He could talk to people who might have done some not so good things and he would sit down and talk to them man to man without judgement. More times than not he would get people to take ownership for their mistakes so we could move on and find closure for people that were victims. Working on both sides with the victims and the suspects. John did a great job and like I said he is sorely missed."
I asked the Sheriff to describe John's charachter in one sentence, "I would say John (Liebenstein) was a giving, caring man. Giving and caring of his time and talents. His love for his family. His love for the job. His love for farming and community."
"People look at different sports people as heroes. John was a good role model for many people out there throughout Rice County and in the Dundas area."
Here is Troy's written rememberance entitled Gone But Not Forgotten.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the tragic death of Rice County Deputy John Liebenstein, badge #115. It was 25 years ago today that John had gone home for lunch and monitored radio traffic of a vehicle pursuit southbound from the metro area. John left home and responded to the area of CR 1 & I-35 in Forest Township. As the vehicle approached the area, John pulled his squad to the top of the off-ramp. Before he could exit the squad, his squad was struck at over 90 mph.
My last memory of John that day was seeing him being put into the back of an ambulance with Northfield emergency responders doing CPR. He was pronounced dead a short time later at the hospital. When word of this was shared to us at the scene, it was a very somber time. Troopers, deputies and police officers all embraced one another. Even those that didn’t know John felt an emptiness in their heart knowing we had lost another brother in the line of duty.
Those next few days were a blur. So much sadness, so much anger, so much disbelief, so much loss. How do you prepare for this? What do you say? All I could do was hug his mom, wife, brother, sisters and the kids. Looking into his kids eyes knowing that their life was changed forever, never again to see their dad here on earth.
John was our friend, our coworker, a husband, a father, a brother, an uncle, a son and a neighbor. John was always willing to give a helping hand. Today, John is also a grandfather even though his grandchildren never had the chance to meet Grandpa John. They only know him from photos, from stories from Grandma Jean, Great Grandma Artis or their mom and dad. John’s infectious smile is lighting up the heavens as he watches all of us live our lives.
Please take time to remember John on this anniversary of his death as well as all of the men and women that lost their life in the line of duty. They are gone but not forgotten. I know I have a lot of great memories of my friend and I shed a tear when I think about what life would be like today if “Big John” was still here with us. I hope and pray almost every day that we never lose another peace officer, but we know this is not reality.
Take time to keep all of our brothers and sisters in Law Enforcement in your thoughts and prayers that don that badge with honor, respect, pride, dignity and professionalism, just like John and all of our other brothers and sisters that gave their life to protect and serve our community, our state and our nation. Thank you to everyone who pray and support those who protect and serve in public safety. Make sure you say thanks today and every day. God Bless!
Sheriff Troy Dunn
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