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A memorial service was held February 13 in the little Iron Range town of Bovey for former Bovey police chief Terry Wilkey. Wilkey spent more than 30 years on the town's police force. The 800-some residents of Bovey all knew him. But his fame spread much farther - to the Twin Cities, as far as Texas and North Carolina - because of Terry Wilkey, the writer. Wilkey contributed a police column called "Streets of Bovey" to Bovey's weekly newpaper. It became an underground hit. People clipped and mailed "Streets of Bovey" to distant relatives. It was posted on law enforcement billboards and eventually became a humorous series on Minnesota Public Radio.
WHEN TERRY WILKEY RETIRED FROM THE BOVEY POLICE DEPARTMENT about two years ago, he took me for a drive around town. He was so tall and wide, it seemed he had to fold himself behind the wheel of his car - and it was a big car. With a quiet nostalgia, he pointed out where things used to be - the house where he'd seen his first murder victim, the spot where the old police shack once stood. Wilkey became a police officer here when he was 23 - with no formal training. He simply asked for the job and the city council said okay.
Wilkey: When I was hired, me and another guy, they said, "Here's the keys to the police shack" - we didn't have an office - "and if you can get the squad car started, great. Otherwise, you'll have to use your own car for awhile, or walk."Wilkey spent the next 30 years solving crimes, opening doors for people who locked their keys in the car, scolding rambunctious kids, and taking guff from what he called know-it-alls.
Wilkey: We're in a small town, and people thought, "Those guys don't do anything but sit in the police car and smoke cigarettes." And after many years of that, I thought, I'm gonna start writing this column and let 'em know what was really going on.Every week or so, Wilkey would write a list of what he'd been up to; items like, "Found an unlocked door at a business. We locked it." Sometimes, Wilkey talked tough. In one column, he suggested a few nights in the Crowbar motel might straighten out a wrongdoer. Sometimes, details about Wilkey's life would appear. He wrote about the difficulty he had renting a tux for his daughter's wedding, because he was such a big man. He complained about what he paid for the wedding, listing the prices of flowers, food, and photographs. Each column began with a suggestion that know-it-alls should not read his words because they might overtax their minds. Each column ended with the advice, "Lock that door and get that license number."
Wilkey: I always enjoyed the job, gave 100%, had a good rapport with teenagers. Always concerned about our senior citizens. And I guess I figured this was my job, and this was my town, and I was gonna take care of it to the best of my ability.Wilkey had hoped that someday he would write a book about being police chief in Bovey, but he never got time to finish it. He died of cancer February 7, at the age of 55. When he retired two years ago, Wilkey said he had gotten tired of always seeing people at the worst moments in their lives, always seeing sorrow. But he found humor in the absurd and mundane moments a small town cop encounters. Wilkey clearly had fun writing the newspaper column. He was delighted when MPR created a short series of radio programs based on his reports. His sense of humor extended even to himself.