Meet Bob Buresh, who started as an Edina volunteer firefighter when he was just an 18-year-old high school senior and retired as the city's Public Safety Chief, heading both the police and fire departments.
Not a bad career path for someone who got involved with the Fire Department as a Boy Scout, along with his friend Bill Feck, another Edina boy who became Fire Chief. They both joined the U.S. Air Force together in 1951 but returned to the department as volunteers after the service. Bob took a job as a full-time firefighter in 1957 and then worked his way "up the ladder," so to speak, getting promoted to lieutenant in 1963, to captain in 1967, to assistant fire chief in 1968, and chief in 1975. He retired in 1987.
The history of his career -- and the Edina Fire Department -- is told through these artifacts that Buresh donated last week. The 35 items include firefighting turnout gear, his dress uniform blazer and hat, as well as badges, pins, nametags, photo ID card and Village of Edina business cards.
Here's a closer look at a few of the items. Do you notice that some pins have one horn, while others have two or three? As I learned when creating an exhibit with the police and fire departments a few years ago, the horns indicate rank, with one signifying lieutenant, two for captain, three for assistant chief and four for chief. Bob accumulated quite a collection during his long career.
(Can you see Bob's height on his Village of Edina identification badge? He still stands straight and tall at 6-foot-4.)
Bob wore this hat (decorated with the three horns) when he was assistant chief. The dress blazer also indicates rank, with three stars on one sleeve.
I especially like the turnout gear -- the protective clothing worn while fighting fires. Both the coat and the hat look like they've been through a few battles.
Bob also served as head of the Minnesota Fire Chiefs Association, which worked to get a firefighter's memorial at the Minnesota Capitol. This is replica, the first in a series of 700. The firefighter wears No. 10 on his hat, the same number as Bob's when he was Edina chief.
Several years ago, one of our volunteers Bob Reid did an oral history with Bob Buresh and other fire chiefs to get a history of the department. I think it's time for another interview, this time to focus in on Buresh's childhood. Bob had some great stories to tell about ski jumping as a kid in Edina.
"You mean the one at Hyland Park in Bloomington?" I asked.
Nope, the one off Skyline Drive in Edina in the late 1930s, he said, when the area still was undeveloped countryside.
The news even surprised one of our board members Bob Kojetin, who never heard tales of an Edina ski jump while he was Park and Rec Director, albeit decades later.
(Yes, there are three Bobs in this story, in case you're counting: Bob Reid, Bob Buresh and Bob Kojetin.)
Now that you've met Bob Buresh, I'm sure you'll see more of him as we find out more about these great Edina Fire Department artifacts and hear more stories about growing up in Edina.
Edina bought its first police car in 1930 -- all black (because that was the only option available.). After authorization from the Village Council, first police officer Percy Redpath spent extra money to have "Village of Edina" lettering on the doors.
Eighty-three years later, Edina's police squad design will feature a black car body with lettering on the door, a throwback to its origins after many years brighter colored accents and a white roof.. Edina Police Chief Jeff Long announced the change in the city's blog, noting, "From the mid-1940s all the way to 1990, our squad cars had only a patch or badge on the door. In keeping with history, we have chosen to return to our roots and place a simple patch on our car."
Long also showed photos of past car designs: "Department history is very important to those of us who work here. If you have ever taken a tour here you have noticed the incredible job that department historian Officer Kevin Rofidal has done to keep our history alive."
So true. We worked with Kevin a few years back in creating an exhibit about Edina Police and Fire Departments' history and put together this timeline of squad design and technology history. Besides some great old photos, it also contains some fun facts like:
Minneapolis and St. Paul consistently rank among the top cities for "most literate." We read. A lot. I suspect that part of the reason are weeks like this past one -- with below zero temps, wind chill advisories, snow, sleet and slick roads. What better thing to do than curl up in a blanket with a book?
While the rest of America has been reading 50 Shades of Grey or perhaps the Lincoln biography, I have tried to catch up on history reading for the museum, such as this memoir From Danmark to America: The American Dream recently donated by a former resident Paul A. Thompsen.
Paul chronicles his family roots in Denmark and the hardships his immigrant "parents endured so that we could have greater opportunities that weren't available to them in the old country," Paul wrote in a letter to the Historical Society.
On Dec. 29, 1937, when Paul was two years old, his parents bought a farm in the Cahill district of Edina. "Our farm sat just below the highest point on Valley View Road which provided a beautiful view of the valley and rich farm land. The southernmost property line was at the intersection of Antrim Road and Valley Road. The location of the house and farm buildings was about where Lois Lane and Valley View Road intersect today." (See Google map.)
Here's an aerial of the farm in 1947, courtesy NETR Online Historic Aerials. You can go to the web site and zoom in, as well as look at the development of the land throughout the years.
The Thompsen farm, located in the Irish Cahill community, became a gathering spot for Danish immigrants living in the metro area. Every June, the Thompsens hosted the annual Fugle Skydning festival, which commemorated bird hunting. One year, the shooting drew the attention of Edina police who "tried to confiscate the guns to halt the shooting but when they found out all the action was on our property with safety precautions observed, they had to apologize and leave," Paul wrote.
Paul included some great photos of the farm, his one-room Cahill School and classmates, and family gatherings.
I enjoyed Paul's descriptions of life on the farm, which didn't have electricity until 1941.
At the same time, the Thompsens installed an indoor bathroom for the first time with running water, a toilet and a bathtub. "No more outhouse, thank heavens!" Paul writes. "Prior to electricity, we had to the pump house to draw the water, about 125 feet away. Then we had to carry the water to the house for drinking, cleaning or bathing."
On Aug. 1, 1942, a lightning bolt struck one of the barns, filled with 5,000 bales of hay, and set the building ablaze. The Hopkins and Edina fire trucks had to drive to Nine Mile Creek about a half-mile away to keep refilling their tanks. They could do little but prevent the house from catching fire, and two barns burned to the ground.
Despite the setback, Thompsens rebuilt and paid off the farm in 1944, and Paul's father "considered becoming a gentleman farmer." Within a few months, however, he was feeling unwell and sought out a chiropractor. He died at age 56 after climbing the stairs to his first appointment.
Paul was just nine years old, with three older sisters. Although the family tried to continue farming with the help of hired hands, the farm was sold in 1946 and the family moved to 5255 France Avenue in Minneapolis.
I enjoyed the memoir as much as any bestselling novel. The self-published book isn't for sale, but can be read during regular museum hours at the Edina History Museum.
Paul now lives in San Diego and when he called recently, he (like every warm weather transplant I have ever met) asked about the weather, "It's 70 degrees here... what's it like in Minnesota?" This week, I'd have to say, "Good reading weather."
In the early 1960s, New York Police Department and others throughout the country visited Edina to learn about its revolutionary “random patrol” method.
The idea was to keep criminals guessing by making patrols unpredictable. A spin of a handmade game wheel (see above photo from the May 1962 Village of Edina newsletter) determined where officers would patrol next. Every 20 minutes or so, a dispatcher would send a squad to a different area of town.
Police officer Kevin Rofidal, unofficial historian for the Edina police department, wrote, "In cooperation with the Indiana University Police Science Institute, Edina was divided into several small districts. The past incidents of calls and crime were calculated and mathematical values were assigned to these areas. The values were converted into percentages in relation to the overall crime in Edina. Four electric roulette wheels were adapted and locations within the small districts were assigned throughout the roulette wheels. During the shift, a dispatcher would spin the roulette wheel, which would determine where the mostly likely place a crime might occurred based on the formulas and a squad would be sent to that location. In the beginning, this was done just on the overnight dog shift 2300-0700 and later expanded to all shifts."
Chief Wayne Bennett and other law professionals pointed to the success of statistically random patrols, but the innovative program was one of the few introduced by Bennett that didn’t last.
Bennett was known as an innovator, who brought professionalism and stature to the police department during a rapid period of Edina’s growth.
“We were known nationwide. We had a reputation was number one in innovation in the entire State of Minnesota,” said retired officer Jim Crawford. “You know we are pretty proud of that.”
While many police chiefs during the 1940s and 1950s came to the job without advanced education, Bennett had a law degree and F.B.I. training. He had work experience as a patrolman and lieutenant in Albert Lea and as Assistant Chief of Staff for the MN Department of Civil Defense. In preparation for the opening of the world's first shopping mall, located in what was then a small farming community, the Village Council hired Bennett in 1955 to professionalize the department.
Bennett pioneered the beginning of many programs which are a common place in law enforcement today, such as a police liaison in the schools and a community crime fund. Bennett retired in 1975 after more than 20 years as Edina Chief of Police.
This is Percy Redpath, the city's first full-time paid police officer, hired in 1931.
This is Martha Johnson, long-time volunteer for the Edina Historical Society.
Percy Redpath patrolled the dirt roads of the village as well as the paved streets of the Country Club District, where Martha grew up. The two have never met - except on paper.
For the past several months, Martha has spent her Thursday mornings transcribing Redpath's daily police log, handwritten in diaries for 1931 and 1932. Outside of his family, Martha probably knows more about Redpath than anyone after reading his daily log. I am grateful for her efforts to transform Redpath's jottings, sometimes in very faint pencil scratchings, into a great document for researchers.
Redpath's writings provide a wonderful picture of Edina life during the Depression years. For those who think the "old days" were a simpler time, think again. Even though much of Redpath’s logs documented speeders kicking up the dust at 25 mph or couples “spooning” on country roads, he also dealt with some serious crimes. Here are just a few highlights from the log book:
Friday, Jan. 23, 1931
Description [of] man [who] attacked girl with club 35-40, 5’-8” 180 lbs. Lt. complex[ion]. Short brown sheep lined coat, light cap, 4 day beard
Sunday, Feb. 1, 1931
8:00 p.m. Sedan parked field off 60 St. and France. Couple [in] rear seat. Suggestion of heat. But guy’s trousers buttoned up according to latest regulations.
Saturday, Feb. 7, 1931
10 p.m. – Call to #55 [Minneapolis squad]. Boys on roof of stores, 50th Street and Xerxes throwing snow balls at pedestrians. Was at 50th and France at time of call. Made run, held boys until #55 came.
Tuesday, Feb. 10, 1931
8:30 Religious nut – sitting by fresh made fire – just off Hanson Road. Clean and honest face. …(Long hair, beard.) What police would term a lodger. Refused space in C.C. Garage for him, found him a place to sleep. Sent him to U.G Mission in a.m. [Note: probably Union Gospel Mission in Minneapolis.]
Sunday, Feb. 15, 1931
12:30 (a.m.) Usual run of maids returning to Country Club District.
Friday, Feb. 20, 1931
3:30 (a.m.) Collegiate party treasure hunters in search of #13 green on Golf Course. Told them where #13 was.
Saturday, March 7, 1931
8:45 Radio call – 56 St and Normandale, prowler. At my home – wife thought she saw and heard someone around buildings. Not found.
Monday, March 16, 1931
Radio call – 3121 West 56th St. Horse destroying property. Horse had been annoying for a week and found him eating on H. Bachman’s lawn – above address – signs of damage to lawn. Did not know who owned horse. Found owner – had horse taken home and warned to keep him up.
Sunday, April 26, 1931
10:50 Call to #50 and #55 [Minneapolis squads]. Hold up at 50th and France. … Arrived … just ahead of St. Louis Park Car. Civilians had left in pursuit of stick up car south on Halifax. … Sheriff’s got the hold-up man in chicken shack. All credit due to pursuers.
Wednesday, May 6, 1931
1:15 a.m. Radio call – 4528 Casco. Some trouble. Visitor thought his car stolen. It had run away. Found and parked it on Bridge St. at 9:30.
Sunday, May 24, 1931
9:30 Radio call… Insane man threatening to shoot. [Went to house and one of the grown sons] had struck his mother and oldest brother on head with heavy bolt or similar object cutting open their heads. Mother must be about 80. Found him hiding amongst the cows in barn. Held at our car until Sheriff’s car arrived.
As a second half of the project, we'd like to research some of the incidents. Wouldn't it be fun to find out what exactly the city regulations were regarding spooning? Apparently, it required a gentleman's trousers to be buttoned up, but what else makes sitting in a car at the side of the road an illicit activity? What does the "usual run of maids" mean? My guess is that the live-in maids in the Country Club District left every Friday and returned late every Sunday night.
If you would like to know more about Redpath, please see the story I wrote for the Spring 2007 membership newsletter. If you'd like to read more of Redpath's log, stop in during regular museum hours.
Thank you to Martha and the Redpath family for helping us make the log books accessible to researchers.
For a year and a half, a tall bank robber who often wore a floppy-brimmed fishing hat broke state records by committing 23 robberies in Minnesota. Dubbed the "Fishing Hat Bandit," John D. Whitrock was arrested in Edina and credit union president Dean Wickstrom helped reel him in.
In return, he received a fishing hat autographed by Whitrock along with a letter that apologized for his "illegal withdrawal."
Wickstrom framed the two items along with the story about the arrest and displayed them for a time at
Real Financial Center, where Wickstrom helped bring the bandit's bank-robbing spree to an end in January 2005.
Wickstrom loaned the display board to the Edina History Museum for our 2007 exhibit about Edina's police and fire history. Visitors commented so much on the "Fishing Hat Bandit" items that we also included them in the next exhibit on Edina's early suburban history.
Here is a copy of the infamous hat. Wickstrom had asked for the real thing, but the FBI told him the hat was "evidence." The man known for his polite demeanor during his robberies decided to send him an autographed duplicate.
Here's his letter that arrived with the hat.
The loaned display has now been returned to Wickstrom, who will loan it to the Edina Police Department for its City Hall display of artifacts from the city's police history. Police officer Kevin Rofidal, who was instrumental in putting together our exhibit on the police and fire departments, has collected items and stories for the permanent display case at the police station.
For more information on the fishing hat bandit, see these online resources:
The more things change, the more things stay the same. In the 50-some years since Constable George Weber kept a look out for speeders at 44th and France in the 1950s, police work has changed dramatically. Police now have radar, computers in their squad cars and two-way radios to connect them with dispatch. Two things haven't changed: residents complaining about speeders on their street, and speeders attempting not to get caught.
From our collection, "speed traps" now and then.
Constable George Weber
2000s:(above) “I was working on West 77th Street between Highway 100 and Parklawn. Speeds were way up, and I was getting lots of business. All of a sudden, things really cooled down until a lady pulled over to tell me someone had put up that sign for eastbound traffic near Seagate.” ~Officer Tom Mason
1950s: (left) When the Morningside Village Council urged Constable George Weber to hide behind bushes to catch speeders, he obeyed, even though it went against his usual mode of operation. (The Village's lone police officer preferred negotiation over confrontation.) He tagged one speeder, who then warned other drivers on a megaphone: “Speed trap ahead!” A photo of the scene in the Edina-Morningside Courier showed Weber chuckling behind his hand, enjoying the spectacle as much as the observers were.
A Story from Dispatch
“Oh, I had one guy one night, he called complaining about speed traps and stuff like that. That’s when they were building the Crosstown. … The squads used to sit in there and you couldn’t see ‘em because of the barricades, and they’d catch all the traffic going southbound on 100. So this guy calls, and he was really complaining that he’d been caught and it’s a speed trap and they got to have lighted squads, and all this kind of junk. Yakety, yak, yak, yakkin’. …And when I was finally able to get a word in edgewise, I says, “It’s my opinion that the only time you abide by the speed limit is when you see a squad car.” ~ from an oral history with Al Hines, dispatcher 1960s to 1980s
I should have said "three things haven't changed." Edina Police still have a sense of humor.
Gangsters, bootleggers and runaway trains.. these are just a few stories from the 80-year history of the Edina Police Department. Find out more at the City of Edina web site. Police officer Kevin Rofidal serves as the department historian and has gathered hundreds of photos, some of them shown on an on-line slide show.
Kevin helped us create an exhibit showcasing the history of Edina's Police and Fire Departments a few years ago and continues to collect artifacts and photos, as well as interview retiring officers for their stories from Edina history.
The web site contains only a small portion of the department's history. Visit our research library to access more information from our collection.
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Jennifer Adam is the Executive Director of the Edina Historical Society. She welcomes your contributions. Comment on a post or send an email (see below). Traditional mail, of course, can also be sent to:
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