After 50 years, Deputy Herb Nelson is ready to retire

78-year-old Deputy Herb Nelson will retire in a few months from the Clay County Sheriff's Office

CLAY COUNTY, Minn. (KVRR) — A Clay County Sheriff’s deputy who’s worn the badge for nearly 50 years is getting ready to retire.

Herb Nelson was running a barber shop in Hawley, Minn. when he told a couple of deputies who came in for haircuts that he’d be interested in working with them. That conversation changed his life.

“They came down and brought a badge and a firearm and five bullets and I was working,” says Nelson.

In 1973, Nelson was hired as a part-time Clay County deputy, patrolling the streets of Hawley, without any formal training. That would come more than a year later.

Except for occasional disturbances and bar fights, not much happened in those days. But Nelson says when something did happen, getting the word out for help could be really difficult.

Nelson adds, “There were no portable radios. There were no cell phones or anything at that time. Sometimes you had to drive up on the rodeo ground, hills at the rodeo grounds to get into the county. And sometimes you may be talking to somebody in Montana rather than Clay County. The skip that went on. The radios were horrible.”

Nelson just began his 50th year in law enforcement. He’s a court security deputy today, but much of his time was spent on the road–transporting prisoners back and forth to Moorhead from around the country.

In 1996, Nelson was involved in something that he says he will never forget. Masked gunmen pretending to be law officers burst into a rural home and held a family hostage for 14 hours before trying to escape with a 10-year-old girl as their shield.

“It started on the Clay County side and ended on the Fargo side, in a cul-de-sac down in south Fargo. Ended up in shooting an individual who had a little girl hostage, with a gun to her head. Every once in a while you still wake up and re-run that whole scenario through your mind.”

One of the kidnappers used Nelson’s squad car as a getaway vehicle. It was all over when another deputy shot the man in the face.

“I’m sure it were on camera and everything was played, I’m sure that there were mistakes made. But the end result was a good outcome for all of us,” says Nelson.

Nelson says there’s no question that attitudes towards law enforcement have changed a lot over the past 5 decades–and not necessarily for the better.

“It’s certainly not what I started with. There was a lot of respect, I think for a long time for law enforcement when I started. I think it’s dwindled bad,” says Nelson.

Still, Nelson says he’s had a great career with no regrets.  “For my part, absolutely great place to work. I had nothing but good to say about.”

Nelson says he plans to officially retire at end of April so he has time to enjoy plenty of fishing.

Categories: Minnesota News, Moorhead