A lot has changed since Sgt. Mark Ellingson first hopped in a Grand Forks Police Department patrol car 31 years ago.
“We just had a radio and a shotgun and that was about it,” he said. “Back then, we didn’t even always wear bulletproof vests.”
And even more has changed since his dad, Lt. Odney Ellingson, first put on his uniform in 1958. Odney Ellingson said he remembers quiet night shifts with maybe only one call and only one or two squad cars on duty.
On Friday, Mark will be the final Ellingson to retire from local law enforcement, following in the footsteps of his father, uncles, cousin and older brother, who worked at local fire and police departments.
“It’ll be the first time in 61 years there hasn’t been an Ellingson around here,” Odney Ellingson said.
Mark’s mother, Lorraine Ellingson, said she always knew her son was going to be an officer.
“It was just part of my legacy, honestly,” said Mark Ellingson, noting that his brother and uncle worked for the East Grand Forks Police Department and another uncle was a Grand Forks firefighter.
In 1958, Odney Ellingson had finished serving two years in the U.S. Army and saw a job with the police department listed in the newspaper.
“Coming home from service, he told me ‘I’m never going to put on a uniform again,’ and it was just a matter of time before he was wearing a police uniform,” Lorraine Ellingson said with a laugh.
Odney and Lorraine Ellingson said they were proud to watch Mark and his brother, Odney Jr., become officers. Odney Jr. retired from the East Grand Forks Police Department in 2008 after a 30-year career. He died in 2014 from pancreatic cancer.
Mark Ellingson moved to Nevada and worked as a forensic specialist at a maximum security prison after graduating from UND with a criminal justice degree. He worked in Iowa briefly before a position opened up in the Grand Forks and he returned home.
For nine years, he worked alongside his dad -- though they often only caught each other in passing, when the elder Ellingson would pass his son a few quarters for pop as his work day ended and Mark’s night shift was beginning.
Both men were back at the department Tuesday to celebrate Mark’s retirement. He said the moment feels bittersweet.
“It’s your home away from home, it really is,” Mark Ellingson said. “The working relationships you develop not just within the police department, but also with the ambulances, with the fire department and the community as a whole -- that’s the best part. It seems like you go somewhere and everybody knows you.”