Forest Grove police, fire chaplain retires
Schutz had already been the police chief in a small town in North Carolina, so she had experience with running a police department, albeit in the Southeastern United States instead of the Pacific Northwest. But aside from the differences in geography and culture, the department of which she took the reins in Forest Grove had something — or someone — she had never worked with before.
"When I came here a little over six years ago, I had never been in a department that had a chaplain," Schutz recalled at a Forest Grove Daybreak Rotary Club meeting Tuesday morning, Jan. 22, in the Forest Grove Senior & Community Center. "And I got used to it very quickly, because Dexter (Danielson) is one persistent fellow."
A few months into the job, Schutz found herself, and her force, dealing with the unimaginable: a shootout between Forest Grove police and an off-duty Hillsboro police officer, whose wife worked in the Forest Grove Police Department and called 9-1-1 to report a domestic disturbance. The Hillsboro officer, Timothy Cannon, was injured in the exchange, as was a Washington County sheriff's deputy; Cannon later pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated murder.
Schutz recalled how Danielson, the Forest Grove police chaplain, encouraged her and her police captains to meet with him after the January 2013 incident. Danielson, a Vietnam War veteran who lost several comrades-in-arms during the conflict, then went on to serve in the Washington County Sheriff's Office from 1971 to 2002, could see that both the police department and its leaders were reeling. But Schutz was reluctant to open up to him.
"I can tell you, I resisted for a long time, because I didn't really know what it was going to be like," Schutz said. "And (I) finally relented, the captains relented … and we got in our cars and went over to Dexter's house, in his living room, and I think we spent about an hour and a half just talking about feelings about what we had been through, feelings about what we were feeling our guys had to go through — and that idea of just having a listening ear, Dexter, I will never forget that."
Schutz and others at the Forest Grove Police Department have grown to trust and depend on Danielson, who is one of two chaplains at the department, along with fellow Rotarian Tom Cook. At the Jan. 22 club meeting, though, Schutz and about a dozen officers were there to wish Danielson well in retirement. He wrapped up a nearly 12-year tenure as Forest Grove's police and fire chaplain this week.
Danielson had been retired from the Sheriff's Office for about five years when he learned that Forest Grove first responders had a vacancy for a chaplain. A devout Methodist, Danielson applied for the position and was hired in 2007.
Faith is important to Danielson, who was ordained as a deacon of the United Methodist Church in 2015 and has also served as pastor of Yamhill United Methodist Church.
"Sometimes I think to myself, if it had been 15 years earlier, I might have changed everything," Danielson told Daybreak Rotary Club members, giving a presentation on his life and career Tuesday, Jan. 15.
The work of a chaplain is varied. Danielson said he has officiated weddings, represented his departments at events, and had to be the one to — as gently as possible — tell people performing CPR at the scene of a tragedy that it's time to stop. But much of his job was simply to listen.
"You get to know the department personnel, get to know their families, get to be a number of things to them: a friend, a confidante and a resource," Danielson said.
"Dexter has walked the halls of the Forest Grove Police Department, has walked the halls of the fire department, and he's done it in such a way that — I heard him once say, and it has been with me forever, that he walks with the idea of 'loitering with intent,'" Schutz said. "And when you think of us and all these type-A personalities here, that is just an amazing statement in and of itself, because he has never been pushy as far as his service in the department (and) his ability to be there, just to listen."
Danielson explained, "Amazing conversations can happen in those moments where I have a chance to talk to someone, or they come to me and want to talk about something."
That work continued outside the halls of the police and fire stations.
"I'm also there for the families and the victims … to help and support them through that traumatic and crisis situation," Danielson said.
He added, "That's what I do is try to make those first few hours of grief a little better, get through them a little better, and help them."
Susan Winterbourne, who has known Danielson for years and currently serves as president of the Forest Grove Daybreak Rotary Club, complimented his personality and character.
"You have a calm, compassionate presence about yourself," Winterbourne told Danielson. "You always seem non-judgmental to me. … When you listen, it feels like you don't judge. You just listen. It's a quality that is not rampant in people."
She added, "For me, as a retired public employee, it is always an honor to have someone who exemplifies public service, as you have always done. And it's an honor to always be part of a club with somebody who made the profession of being a public servant so honorable."
Last Tuesday, Schutz presented Danielson and his wife with a few mementos in recognition of Danielson's service to the city. One of her gifts was a garden gnome holding a fishing pole — a nod to Danielson's retirement plans.
"We're going to try to get out there and get the elusive salmon," Danielson said, adding, "Chapters are still to be written. It's not the end of the book. The book will continue."
Editor's note: Editor Mark Miller is an active member of the Forest Grove Daybreak Rotary Club.
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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