Local law enforcement honor fallen officers for National Police Week
Though all in-person events and ceremonies are canceled this year, Bonnie Andrys will honor the week quietly: by visiting the grave of her husband, former EGFPD officer Kenneth Olson, who was killed in the line of duty in 1978.
The last time Bonnie Andrys saw her husband, East Grand Forks patrolman Kenneth Olson, he was leaving for an evening overlap shift. He said goodbye the same way he always did - he gave her a kiss and told her to pray for a big rain for his family's crops.
That night, July 19, 1978, right around the time Olson was shot and killed while investigating a report of suspicious activity, Andrys said a storm broke.
"Boy," she said. "The heavens opened, and he got his rain."
Olson is one local officer who is memorialized during National Police Week, recognized every year during the week of May 15. Police Week and National Peace Officers Memorial Day, recognized on May 15, honor the 22,000 American police officers who have died in the line of duty.
Though all in-person events and ceremonies in the greater Grand Forks area have been postponed, including the 10th annual Northern Valley Police Memorial Service, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, May 12, both GFPD and EGFPD have recognized the week with posts on social media. GFPD Sgt. Jason Dvorak said this year, they're honoring the 146 officers killed in the line of duty in 2019 and the 76 officers killed so far in 2020. That number is higher than it was at this time last year, he said, and he expects that number will continue to grow as officers die as a result of COVID-19 caught while responding to calls.
While a lack of in-person events makes Police Week feel a little strange this year, Andrys said she's still honoring the week quietly, with a trek west from East Grand Forks to Arvilla, N.D., where Olson is buried.
"Because it happened so long ago, a lot of people in town here don't even know that it happened," she said. "So you mention it, and they say, 'what? I didn't know that.' How easy it is to forget after 42 years, I guess."
Since then, Andrys has worked along with the EGFPD to ensure Olson isn't forgotten -- his badge number 345 has been retired, a memorial plaque in his honor is at the base of the flag pole outside the police department, and most recently, the department obtained a brass bell in his memory, which will be run at future police memorial services. The Kenneth M. Olson Scholarship Foundation was also started in his honor for students who want to go into law enforcement.
But Andrys doesn't need plaques or memorials to keep her memories of Olson alive. She still recalls how she met him: with his emergency lights flashing in her rearview mirror.
"I thought, 'well, surely he can't be after me,'" she said. "Finally, he turned his siren on, and I thought, 'oh, what the heck?'"
Sometime since she'd left and come back from college, the speed limit on an East Grand Forks road she was used to driving had been dropped from 40 mph to 30 mph. Olson let her off with a warning, and three months later gave her a call to ask if she remembered him, and if she'd like to go on a date.
Their wedding came soon after, when he was 25 and she was 21. They were married only four months when he died, Andrys said. Even in the short time that they knew each other, she said his passion for law enforcement was clear.
"He was a man of peace, of justice and the rule of law," she said. "That's kind of the way he was."
In the decades that Andrys has been taking part in Police Week ceremonies and remembering Olson, she said she's seen attitudes toward traumatic and tragic events change, both within law enforcement and within the community. While it used to be uncommon to speak publicly about difficult subjects, she said, now, people are much more open about their struggles. In a way, she said that has deepened the appreciation for the sacrifices of the officers who have died, as well as the officers who continue to put on the uniform every day.
"I'd like to think that we appreciate officers more, understand more how dangerous it is," she said. "Like they say, when something happens they run towards the problem while we run away from it. So they're brave and courageous, and they have families and they bleed just like the rest of us do and they're human beings. We're able to see more of them as whole people, and not just as officers."