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2016 Person of the Year: Overweg dedicated to public safety

Being the chief of Public Safety isn't always easy. But to many, Lyndon Overweg makes it look simple. At the helm of Mitchell's Public Safety Department for the past decade, Overweg says those years have been his favorite in public safety -- even...

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Being the chief of Public Safety isn't always easy. But to many, Lyndon Overweg makes it look simple.

At the helm of Mitchell's Public Safety Department for the past decade, Overweg says those years have been his favorite in public safety - even if it means long hours, sleepless nights and less time with family.

Walking the halls of Mitchell's Department of Public Safety building, Overweg is a hard figure to miss. He's acknowledged by all, and he responds to each individual on a first-name basis.

The 51-year-old makes it his mission to know as much about each division within the department, which includes fire, police, emergency medical services (EMS) and traffic. That totals approximately 90 people who work at the Public Safety Building.

As the chief, Overweg is tasked with ensuring safety of the public and the safety of the employees with the department. And he doesn't take that lightly.

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"I think public safety is one of the key elements of a successful, thriving community," Overweg said. "And you have to have that public safety aspect. We're fortunate in Mitchell and you can walk and go to the park and go out for a jog and not worry about some of the concerns that people in larger cities worry about."

For his efforts and dedication to Mitchell, which includes helping lead a massive fundraising project for the city's future Veterans Park, Overweg has been chosen as The Daily Republic's 2016 Person of the Year.

Humbled by the honor, Overweg said it's a team effort to run the public safety department, which has leaders overseeing each safety division. But it's Overweg's attitude, personality and overall dedication that earned him nominations for the Person of the Year title.

"It takes a special person and he's got the leadership to tackle each of those tasks and he definitely does," said Jeff Smith, one of two people to nominate Overweg for the honor. "He's always had Mitchell in the best interests as the way he kind of portrays himself."

Smith, Mitchell City Council president, works with Overweg on a regular basis. Smith, who interacts with Overweg at least twice a month at City Council meetings, said Overweg faces a tough task overseeing each division within the department.

"2016 was not kind to all police divisions throughout the United States and sometimes first responders and firemen are taken for granted," Smith wrote in the nomination letter. "Lyndon runs a very good department and we are so fortunate to have him at the helm of public safety."

Overweg joined the Mitchell Police Division in 1988 after graduating from Dakota Wesleyan University obtaining a degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice.

Unsure of what career he wanted pursue, Overweg took an internship with the Mitchell Police Division. After completing the internship and a ridealong, Overweg was hooked. From then on, he was committed to law enforcement and never looked back.

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He started out as a patrolman in 1988. Two years later he was promoted to detective, then detective sergeant. In 1999, Overweg became the assistant chief of Public Safety. Seven years later, he decided to take another step by applying for chief.

"I saw it as a challenge and thought, 'Hey, I'll throw my name in the hat, too,' not knowing if I was going to get it," Overweg said. "It was an opportunity, but it was risk."

Family and community support

Originally from New Holland, South Dakota - about 50 miles southwest of Mitchell - Overweg didn't aspire to be in law enforcement. He almost didn't even attend Dakota Wesleyan.

He had plans to attend Augustana University in Sioux Falls. Everything was set in place, but a month before school began a recruiter for DWU made Overweg a "heck of an offer" that he couldn't turn down. And so he moved to Mitchell and never left.

Overweg said if he hadn't gone to Dakota Wesleyan, he's not even sure he would have gotten into law enforcement.

"I was thankful to Dakota Wesleyan and thankful to the city of Mitchell for the opportunity, but did I think I'd be here 28 years later? No, not at first," Overweg said.

When Overweg first got into law enforcement he had aspirations to "go federal," but he dropped that goal the longer he stayed in Mitchell.

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He and his wife, Jana, have four children, Reed, Morgan, Taylor and Blair. His family, Overweg said, have always been supportive and a large part of his success with the Mitchell Department of Public Safety.

To most he's the police chief, but to his children he's always been dad.

"He is one person that us kids can lean on for such positive encouragement," said Overweg's daughter, Morgan.

She described him as "never negative" and "will put down what he is doing to help us with anything."

"One thing I admire about him is that he has a very stressful job, but once he steps foot in the house he's the goofy, funny, loving dad and he leaves all his work at work and never brings it home," she said.

Those who work with Overweg echoed many of the same sentiments.

Mitchell Patrol Sgt. Joel Reinesch, who also nominated Overweg for Person of the Year, has worked alongside the chief for 10 years. And in those 10 years, he's seen how Overweg manages the Department of Public Safety, while simultaneously being active in the community after work is done.

"The guy is constantly on the run and it's almost always for the betterment of either the department or the city," Reinesch said. " ... The things that I have seen and couple that with all of his endeavors he has in town, it's an amazing thing. On top of all that, he's a family man. He's one of the most dedicated family men maybe in town."

Overweg has been on numerous committees throughout town during his time in Mitchell. Most notable is his volunteer work with LifeQuest and with First Reformed Church - which he has been involved with since shortly after moving to Mitchell.

His involvement with this and, more recently with the Veterans Park, is another reason Smith and Reinesch nominated Overweg.

When the Veterans Park project expanded to a larger scale, Smith said, Overweg helped raise more than $200,000. The project will serve as a "gateway" to Mitchell's historic Main Street that will benefit the community for years to come, Smith said, and Overweg had a large hand in it.

To fundraise, Overweg said he simply spoke with local individuals and businesses within the community, explaining the Veterans Park project. There was no "arm twisting," he said, as many were on board with the project right away.

When thinking of Overweg, Smith said there's one word that comes to mind: dedication.

"I just think he comes in and gives it his all and he's got to make some tough decisions sometimes," Smith said. "It's not always met with 100 percent acceptance."

The stress behind the badge

Sleep is not always easy for Overweg.

Having a high-stress job, Overweg can feel its effects. He always has his cellphone with him - day and night. He could be working, hunting or on vacation but he never turns the phone off.

"I can usually sleep all right, but I'm always sleeping right next to my cellphone, as is all of our administration," Overweg said. "It's not uncommon to get a call in the middle of the night for whatever reason. It's just a part of the job."

And with every middle-of-the-night call, Overweg said the first thing that runs through his mind is if one of his officers, firefighters or EMS crew is hurt.

But in Overweg's 10 years on the job, no employee from the Department of Public Safety has lost their life.

"But do I think about it a lot? All the time," Overweg said. "I think about every chief out there does. Nobody ever wants that call but we know it's very real possibility. We try to train and prepare our employees for every situation. But we are exposed to very real danger every shift we work."

So Overweg makes sure every one of his staff members is equipped, which includes the right tools, resources and training.

In the last 15 months, Overweg said there have been four Mitchell officers who have left law enforcement because of the stress the position brings. After 28 years in law enforcement, Overweg understands that all too well, but he doesn't do it for himself, but for the people who rely on his help.

"Knowing that you're out there to provide that assistance and the relief you see in people at times, it's amazing," Overweg said. "Just how much they rely on you as the last hope that's out there or to get out of a situation, or to survive an incident or to help them through it, whatever that situation may be."

Before becoming the chief, Overweg said he did some research on the average tenure of a chief in South Dakota. He discovered it was fewer than five years, but he knew he was up for the challenge.

Now, 10 years into his career, Overweg has retirement in mind, but is unsure of whether that will be in one or two years or longer.

But the person who takes over will have some "gigantic shoes" to fill, according to Reinesch.

Reinesch describes Overweg as the "gold standard" as far as leaders go. Reinesch, who has known Overweg for approximately 20 years, said it is Overweg's personality that makes him so great at his job.

"Lyndon is the glue," Reinesch said. "That's what that person needs to be. He needs to be the glue."

For now, Overweg said he's going to focus on doing his job as the chief, in which he credits the department, community and his family for everything he's accomplished.

"I give credit to my family. They live with it, just like I do," Overweg said. "Not only that, but the department, too. The employees all live this same stuff. To have their support is huge. You wouldn't make it 10 years without the support of the not only the community, City Council, mayor, but the people that you work with."

The nominees

The Daily Republic asked for nominations from readers to help choose its 2016 Person of the Year. Here are descriptions of selected nominees in alphabetical order.

 

Lonnie Burns

The sounds of piano is what many think of when talking about Lonnie Burns.

Burns plays piano and the organ every Sunday for the First Lutheran Church. But it doesn't end there. Burns plays for every special services for the church, as well as theater productions between Dakota Wesleyan University and the Area Community Theatre.

 

Lance Carson

Lance Carson is described as an "honest business man" and a "straight shooter."

Carson helped set up Crime Stoppers in Mitchell while serving as chair of the committee at the time. He also dedicates time to higher education, in which he has served on Dakota Wesleyan University's Board of Directors.

The Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo also takes up a majority of Carson's time as he has served on the committee since 1984.

This year, Carson was instrumental in securing funds for the Veterans Park, in which he met with local individuals and business leaders to raise more than $200,000.

Carson will also represent District 20 in the S.D. House of Representatives, after being elected to the seat this year.

 

Alice Claggett

As a former Mitchell Mayor, Alice Claggett remains involved in the community.

Claggett remains involved in Mitchell by being a leader at the James Valley Community Center and a leader at Wesley Acres.

Claggett was nominated by Shirley Lohnes, who said Claggett "steps up to the plate and gets things done," all the while demonstrating strength and fortitude in the interest of all Mitchell residents.

 

Esther Meinen

Esther Meinen is an active member of the First Lutheran Church, where she is part of the piecemakers.

The piecemakers sew charitable quilts, meeting once a week. The quilts don't go to those in need just in the surrounding communities, but all over the world. Many of Meinen's quilts stay in the Mitchell area.

Meinen, who is described as a "jewel," fundraises frequently for the group and devotes much of her time to quiltmaking.

 

Patty O'Connor

Patty O'Connor is an agency administrator and Fischer Rounds, Inc.

Nominated by Maxine Schmig, the company is the "friendliest" in town, Schmig said, as every employee acknowledges those who walk through its doors.

 

Joel Reinesch

Patrol Sgt. Joel Reinesch puts his life on the life every day.

This is according to an anonymous Mitchell resident who nominated Reinesch. Protecting the Mitchell community, the resident describes Reinesch as a kind officer.

 

Steve Rice

Committed to the betterment of Mitchell, Steve Rice devotes much of his time to the community.

Described as a "tireless civic servant," Rice has sat on several community boards including Mitchell United Way, Friends of the Middle Border Museum, the Junior Achievement Board and the Mitchell Public Library board. On top of that, Rice has volunteered with the United States World Day of Caring at the Prehistoric Indian Village.

 

Dean Strand

Dean Strand continues to contribute to the community.

With his military service, his dedication to the local VFW, American Legion and volunteer work with the memorial park and cemeteries, Strand is "true," according to Duane Kummer, who nominated Strand.

In addition to this, Kummer said Strand also has dedicated his time to conservation efforts in the area.

 

Richard Vavra

Richard Vavra is the manager of Goodwill in Mitchell, which opened in 2011.

He leads by example, writes Linda Hanson, who nominated Vavra. His kindness and good works are a silent act of good, Hanson said, and people from miles away from Mitchell know of Varva.

As a manager of Goodwill, Varva has one of the most successful stores in South Dakota, Hanson said.

 

Mary Lou Voigt

Mary Lou Voigt volunteers "countless" hours to those in need in the Mitchell community.

Spending much of her time at the hospital, Voigt often volunteers to assist families who have loved ones in surgery, as well as make sure every newborn child has clothes to wear home.

Anytime a mother-to-be is need, Voigt is the one called upon. She also dedicates many hours to the Holy Spirit Church. Voigt was also at the helm of the Mitchell Visitor Center for many years.

 

Kent VanOverschelde

Kent VanOverschelde is a social studies teacher for the Mitchell High School, but this year he's most known as the head coach of Kernel football program.

VanOverschelde helped MHS to a record year, guiding the Kernels to a program-tying best 11-1 record in his 10th season as the head coach. The team defeated Harrisburg 41-6 in the Class 11AA state title game on Nov. 11 in Vermillion. It is the school's first football title in the playoff-era.

 

Tressa Wede

For fifth-grade teacher Tressa Wede, 2016 was a big year.

Wede helped establish the Corn Palace Education Center with her fifth-grade class, which opened in June. The center consisted of a children's Fun Zone and a Corn Museum. By the end the summer, it was reported the center was open for 85 days and had 76,211 guests.

On top of the Education Center, Wede has secured several grants for classroom computers for students at L.B. Williams Elementary School. Described as an "innovative educator," Wede has given leadership to several community activities.

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