Deputy Willie Graham of the Ward County Sheriff's Department, who most recently served with the Ward County Narcotics Task Force, is retiring after serving 30 years in various capacities in county law enforcement. A retirement party was held in his honor Monday afternoon in the Ex-Servicemen's Room of the Ward County Courthouse.
There were many people there to show their appreciation to Graham before he leaves. Members of the Ward County Narcotics Task Force, the sheriff's department, the state's attorney's office, the Minot Police Department, and even Sheriff Scott Busching of Williams County and others made the journey to show Graham their appreciation. Graham grew noticeably emotional at times when people spoke of him and his career, and he shared many hugs.
"Willie started in the jail as a correctional officer," said Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski after presenting Graham with a commemorative plaque. "And then as he moved up through his career in the sheriff's office he's worked in every division and he's supervised almost all of them. That just shows his character and his ability and what he does for us. Willie will truly be missed."
Deputy Willie Graham, right, hugs Capt. Mike Nason of the Ward County Sheriff’s Department Monday afternoon at a retirement party held in the Ex-Servicemen’s Room of the Ward County Courthouse. Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski, left, had just introduced Graham and presented him with a plaque of appreciation for 30 years of service.
Kukowski later summarized the loss of Graham on the force as "a lot of experience going out the door."
"Willie's gain by being retiring is definitely our loss. He will definitely be missed," said Special Agent Robert Browne of the State Crime Bureau, who has served as Graham's supervisor on the Narcotics Task Force. "We've had Willie on our crew twice and the sheriff's office in their wisdom decided to take him away from us and then we fought long and hard and got him back and were fortunate enough to have him until he retired. I've been in this business for 20 years now and I can honestly say that guys of Willie's work ethic are few and far between ... Just a great asset to us. Many, many times over the years we've been in situations with bad guys and things have escalated to almost beyond control and Willie shows up and he just has that way of cooling people out. It's just his manner, he's been around so long that people know him and trust him."
That sentiment was shared by Kristi Chole, the supervisor of Ward County Juvenile Court.
"You helped us out on a lot of sticky situations and you're a go-to guy," she said. "You would always conduct yourself knowing that it was kids and families in tough situations ... We will miss you."
"I've known Willie since I was 16 years old," said Capt. Mike Nason of the Ward County Sheriff's Department. "It goes back to long before I had a law enforcement career and when Willie was wearing blue as an airman and I was a little, snot-nosed kid. That's the truth. We both have come a long ways. I'm proud to say that I've known Willie all this time. He's a friend of mine and I respect him as a man, immensely."
Graham said that he doesn't have any immediate plans for his retirement, but told The Minot Daily News that he plans on "taking a little time off with my family," and that he "might do some traveling" and find something to do with his time other than law enforcement.
"It's just one of those things when you come to the end of your career it's time for one of the younger guys to be doing it," Graham said, later adding that "I've pretty much done it all except for being sheriff."
He arrived in Minot from his home in Mississippi as an airman stationed at Minot Air Force Base in 1974, later getting a job as a corrections officer in July 1983. From there he served as a patrol officer, a supervisor of patrol, the civil process division, the investigation division and, finally, the Narcotics Task Force. Despite being from Mississippi he described himself as a North Dakotan.
As for his plaque to commemorate his career, he said his wife "is the one who does the decoration, so she'll find somewhere to put it."