By John Lauritsen

AITKIN, Minn. (WCCO) — On a beautiful May evening, 200 people filled the front lawn in front of the Aitkin County Courthouse for five men who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“Now those names are in stone on this memorial and that way they’ll never be forgotten,” Deputy Greg Payment said.

Payment says the dedication began as an idea, but soon donations from across the county poured in, helping them to build a lasting memorial.

It’s a memorial unique to Aitkin County in that replica badges for each officer have been added next to their names. That includes investigator Steve Sandberg, who was killed in 2015.

(credit: CBS)

“He put in a long career and he did everything right, so that just gets you that much more respect in law enforcement. And he was a great family man and a great community member,” Payment said.

So was conservation officer Russ Nelson. He died in a plane crash while looking for poachers in 1975. His daughter Pat was just a year old.

“I have pictures, I have some of the audio recordings with him, but everything is usually stories. I don’t really remember him,” she said.

But he’s the reason Pat became a police officer herself. This memorial proves that more than 40 years after his death, Pat’s father is still remembered by the county he loved and served.

“My dad is an ideal. He’s a story, we have a concept of him. We know he was a hero, he was given some heroic medals. He really gave everything to this state and to law enforcement and we’re very proud of him,” Pat said.

The other names on the Aitkin County memorial are James Harney, Benjamin Christensen and Thomas Wyatt.


John Lauritsen