LeWayne Lukkes

Tyndall Police Chief LeWayne Lukkes grew up on a farm in South Avon, S.D. and though his early adulthood offered opportunities to work and live overseas, he settled down and found his passion in another small town about 15 minutes from where he grew up, a town in which where he has served as a police officer for 34 years.

So what is he passionate about? “Living in a small town and being able to walk down the street and talk to 97 percent of the people and they know you.

“You know just about everybody in town. And that can be good and bad when you deal with them on a different note. When you’ve maybe sat in church with or talked to in the grocery store more than 20 times, and you have to arrest them a week down the road because they drank too much and got stupid or did drugs or whatever. That’s the tough part.”

In Tyndall, a town with a population a little over a thousand, there is no police station. There is instead, a church office from which police run 24 hour dispatch. There’s also a jail — for males only. “In larger cities you’ve got SWAT team, personnel management team,” reflects Lukkes. “In a small town you are a jack of all trades. I’ve been on the ambulance for 37 years, fire department for 37 years.”

As a rule, Lukkes believes he has gotten along well, “I’ve had a few minor problems over the years, but I usually get along with everybody — even if you have to arrest them. They might not talk to you for a year, and then they come around and start talking to you again. I can understand that.”

His secret is, not surprisingly, as down to earth as the man. “Have you ever heard of Andy Griffith?” He asks, smiling. Lukkes has always run his career with TV’s avuncular small town Sheriff Andy Griffith in

mind, “He had common sense… Let’s take a deep breath here, let’s talk about it.” Unlike Andy’s deputy Barney, Andy would always try to talk things out letting cooler heads prevail. Chuckling, Lukkes says, “They call me Andy uptown.”

LeWayne Lukkes graduated from Avon High School in 1974 and joined the Marines for two years. During that time he travelled to “Okinawa, Philippines Thailand, Guam, Iwo Jima, Iraq, Germany a couple of times, I was in Ireland and Hungary and Austria. I’ve got them all written down. Actually I’ve been to more countries than I have states!” he laughs.

By 1979 he was doing construction and living in Tyndall, where he met his wife at the bowling alley. “She was a waitress in there,” he recalled, “We went bowling and that’s where I met her.”

He also joined the Guard early on, “I joined the National Guard in Springfield and then we went to Wagner, and then we went to Iraq in ‘04. I got out in ‘05.”

Lukkes didn’t join law enforcement until 1983, “This was a long time ago, 35 years ago, it was the winter and I used to work construction. Employment wasn’t much during the winter months.

“I called the sheriff’s office, Lyle O’Donnell was the sheriff at that time, and I asked them if they needed any help, I’d be willing. And he said, ‘Could you start tomorrow?’” One of the deputies had quit, so Lukkes started a couple of days later.

Over the years he’s found that his experience overseas with the military has actually helped him in police work. “One of the things that I got over there is in training: always be aware of your surroundings. It was the same here. And when I went to Iraq it was even worse. It helps to be aware of your surroundings and have an escape route if something stupid happens.”

Though Tyndall has some serious crimes over the years, most of those seem to involve people passing through. In the 1980s a man shot and killed his nephew on the golf course in Tyndall. Both were semi drivers from Texas, just passing through. Last year an Iowa man intentionally ran over Tyndall Deputy Kelly Young. The deputy is back to work and recovering nicely, the perpetrator is in Mike Durfee State Prison about ten miles away in Springfield.

In the event of a serious crime, Tyndall turns things over to the state, “We’ve had a few murders. When you have a murder here, DCI (Department of Criminal Investigations) they step in and they take over. You’re kind of their gofer, you do what they tell you and that’s alright.” In these cases the state coordinates with federal agencies too.

For the rest, people in the community help each other, “We all kind of work together because we are a small community. The fire department helps out. If a kid is missing you call the fire department, you get half the guys show up on a minute’s notice.”

Everyday events are not nearly so dangerous, “More typical, we have some drug problems on occasions; we have some drinking problems on occasions and domestic problems on occasions, and then your small-town stuff like one neighbor not getting along with another one because they left a rake on their yard, stuff like that.”

One way to prevent crimes, Lukkes believes, is to reach out to the children, “I always go to school and talk to little kids. If I can change one of them from going to the Big House, that’s the prison, that’s why I stick with it. Once you’re a teenager you’re done, your mind’s set.” Younger children, first, second or third graders can still be influenced, says Lukkes, “And maybe down the road one of them would possibly think, ‘I talked to this old guy years ago,’ which would be me…. If I could honestly say I helped someone get on the straight and narrow; that was worth it. I try to walk through the school once a day. Just so they see me.”

For 37 years, his interest in helping children has also extended to charity work during the holidays, “We do Toys for Tots here too and that’s a heartbreaker. Kids write letters, you know, to Santa Claus, and some of them just want a new pair of shoes and a pair of socks. And then a lot of them put ….a list of what they want and we try to, with the money we get from donations and stuff, we try to pay, or buy close to what they want.”

As for the older kids, teens and young adults set on a bad path, “I’ve known some kids that were probably going to go to the Big House if they didn’t straighten out, but they went into the Marine Corps and they’re making a career out of it because they’ve got discipline. You know, whether you like it or not you’re going to get discipline there. It doesn’t work for everybody. It’s not a cure for everybody, but it does help a lot of people.”

Given his interest in the community, it is not surprising that the domestic incidents are often the most upsetting, and the most challenging part of his job, “You get a divorce and the father, by the court, he gets them [the children] on this weekend and the kids don’t want to leave their mother. Well, they have to cause that’s what the court says, and they’re bawling. That’s the part of the job I hate, right there.

“That’s why you try to do like Andy Griffith, ‘let’s talk things out.’ No need to arrest everybody on the spot.” When asked, “Do they really call you Andy?” Lukkes laughed, “Yes. They used to call me Barney too, but now I’m the old guy.”