As the stories from Brad Lake's 30-year career with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office were shared at his retirement party, there were plenty of laughs, and at times, plenty of tears.
A group of friends, colleagues and family gathered last Wednesday at Douglas County Public Works to bid adieu to Lake, who began his career with the sheriff's office May 15, 1988. He has been the county's chief deputy since 2007, when Troy Wolbersen was first elected as sheriff and appointed Lake as his right-hand man.
Lake followed several speakers by giving thanks and sharing several stories, including one about wolves leaving the pack.
"I don't feel like I'm leaving the pack. This is not the end. It's just the beginning. I feel like I'm a work in progress," he said. "And come tomorrow morning, when the sun is coming up over the pine trees, I have no idea what the hell I'm going to be doing!"
With that, the room erupted in laughter. Lake then read a poem by Rudyard Kipling before signing off from duty for the last time by announcing he was 10-7, which in law enforcement lingo means out of service or off duty.
Wolbersen will be appointing a new chief deputy at next Tuesday's Douglas County Board meeting.
Taylor Lake, who referred to her dad as a superhero, said that when she was a kindergartner, bringing handcuffs to school made her the coolest kid. When she got to high school, those thoughts changed a little bit.
But it didn't matter to her because her father was, and is, her "mortal hero every single day."
She recalled the time her dad was on duty and involved in a car crash that was so horrific, when she saw the shape his car was in she couldn't believe he made it out alive.
"But just like Superman, he's here," she said.
Heart of Christ
Pastor Jay Jenson, who rode the bus with Lake when they were kids, said he was so happy their paths crossed this past Easter when Lake and his family joined The Church in the Pines.
In the short time of reconnecting with Lake, Jenson learned about Lake's sense of humor, his love for the outdoors, his love for the team of law enforcement officers he worked with and his incredible love for his family.
He said Lake has a heart of Christ and a love of protecting and serving others.
"The plans for you are huge," Jenson told Lake. "I can't wait for what God has planned for you, my friend and brother."
Jail Administrator Jackie Notch said Lake likes to joke around and have a good time. She should know, since they have known each other since fifth grade, and shared many laughs since then.
When she was in her second year of law enforcement school and Lake was in his first, they were summer volunteers for the newly-formed water patrol. Not having grown up on the lake or knowing what to do, she stood by and watched as Lake backed the water patrol boat into Lake Mina.
"As I watched, I wondered, 'How do we get the boat?' " she said. Lake had failed to tie the boat up and it was floating away. "Brad had cowboy boots on, so he couldn't go in the water. I had to swim out and get it."
Notch also recalled a time after Lake was hired as a jail dispatcher that he locked himself in the jail's laundry room and four inmates escaped. Fortunately, everything turned out all right and Lake didn't lose his job.
Notch and Lake not only worked water patrol together, but were also part of the dive team and SWAT team, and they were both sergeants and also administrators.
"It's been amazing," she said, recalling another story, this one dealing with a deer.
Notch recalled being on patrol duty when there was a call of a car hitting a deer, but the deer wasn't dead. She had to dispatch it and then Lake and his brother, Billy, who has since passed away, gutted the deer on the spot because a police officer wanted it.
"They threw the whole bloody deer on top of my squad car," Notch said, adding that she had to drive all the way through town on Broadway, stopping at every single light because, of course, they all had to be red. "Those were the good ol' days."
Eventually, Notch said Lake developed a "test" when it came to pranking people or playing jokes, which involved whether the person would get hurt or lose their job.
Despite all that, Notch said, "We did a lot of good. We trained a lot. We had fun. But the coolest thing is our friendship."
Joani Nielson, a friend whom Lake refers to as "sissy," said their journey spans 30 years. Her ex-husband was Lake's best friend and partner for many years. Lake is the godfather to her son, Chase, and she is the godmother of Lake's daughter, Taylor.
"Needless to say, Brad and I have a brother/sister relationship that goes deep," Nielson said. "Brad is one of the most compassionate people I know and I believe it is his compassion that led him through a successful career in law enforcement."
Nielson said that the intensity of a career in law enforcement can take its toll. Despite that, Lake took his years of experience as a seasoned officer to help others through some of the worst moments in their lives. She said he understands that people struggle on a daily basis and may even, at times, end up on the other side of the law.
"But he stills see them and treats them as humans who deserve dignity and compassion," she said.
One story Nielson shared was when Lake helped celebrate her dad's last birthday while he was in hospice. Lake, who her dad considered a second son, was also a pallbearer at his funeral.
"Not only did Brad carry my father to his grave, he has kept my dad's legacy alive by sending me a photo from the top of a hill in Wyoming where Brad laid antlers next to a gift given to him by my dad," Nielson said. "Brad is truly a symbol of calm and sympathy, exhibiting characteristics others should aspire to have."
Whole career together
Wolbersen, who has known Lake his whole life, said they sometimes disagreed, but that it was always respectfully. Since Lake became his chief deputy in 2007, they have made a great team together.
"I'm short, he's tall. I'm right-handed, he's left," Wolbersen said. "We balance each other out and that balance has carried us throughout our career."
Wolbersen said that Lake's family can be proud because he's had a great career.
"I'm happy for you, my friend, my partner," Wolbersen said, choking back tears. "I'm happy to call you my chief deputy and I am proud of you."