FARMINGTON — On Friday Sheriff Dennis Pike turned over the keys to the sheriff department car, and by the new year he will have cleaned out the few belongings he’s kept at the office.
Pike, 74, is retiring after 46 years of wearing a police badge, just shy of the 50-year landmark he was hoping to reach. He lost his bid for re-election to a fourth term in Franklin County in November to Scott Nichols.
“It was what it was, but I can’t complain. I’ve been blessed. I did what I set out to do,” he said.
Pike said he can’t remember ever wanting to be anything but a police officer or live anywhere but Maine.
The only time Pike lived outside of Farmington was shortly after high school when he was in the U.S. Army Reserve for six years, four of which were active duty at Fort Dix in New Jersey, where he was martial arts instructor for the new recruits. At 5 feet, 10 inches and 150 pounds, he said he was light enough to have the advantage during hand-to-hand combat.
Those skills served him in his law enforcement career on more than one occasion, he said.
After six years in the Reserve, he was invited to re-enlist but he wanted to return to Farmington.
“My goal from day one was to get my military obligation done and return to Maine,” he said.
After returning, and the University of Maine at Farmington for about two years — it was Farmington State Teachers College at the time — Town Manager Harold Bean offered him a job as a Farmington police officer.
“So I went and notified the school and never looked back,” he said.
Shortly after he joined the police, Pike also became a part time sheriff’s deputy. He said in his early years there were many nights he was the only Franklin County deputy or officer on duty from Farmington to Coburn Gore, 73 miles up Route 27 on the Canadian border.
Back then, police did not carry radios and it wasn’t until decades after he started that police began to call for backup as a rule in tight situations. Even if he’d had a radio, Pike points out, there was no one to call.
Farmington, he said, was the only local police station for years in the county with officers on duty 24 hours a day.
“If you got into a situation, you knew you were going to have to be the one to resolve it without outside help,” he said. “You could say it enhanced one’s communication skills significantly.”
Thought he doesn’t smoke, Pike said he has cigarettes to thank as a negotiating tool during those years.
“I could say, ‘Do you want to sit down and have a cigarette, or do you want to wrestle around for a while?’ Ninety percent of the time they chose the cigarette. It was an invaluable tool, though that probably gives nightmares to health care providers,” he said.
In another situation, Pike said he drove by Cumberland Farms in Farmington late one night, before the store was open 24 hours, and saw burglars inside the dark store.
Thinking he couldn’t catch them by himself if they ran, he pulled his car up to the store and held the door shut with his bumper until he could find backup to help arrest them.
“When you’re alone, you really had to think these things through for ideas,” he said.
One of his favorite arrests came years later after he investigated a break-in at the American Legion post.
For years he had joked that he wished burglars would leave their business card behind. While investigating at the American Legion he found the burglar’s bank deposit slip left behind, leading him right to the burglar.
“I had always joked that I wished a burglar would leave me his card and then this guy did pretty much that,” he said.
In 1991, he retired from the Farmington police to work full time as a deputy. Twenty years later, Pike began his 12-year tenure as sheriff, and named Ray Meldrum, a deputy in the department, chief deputy, which he said was one of the better decisions he made as sheriff.
Meldrum said he and Pike worked well as a team.
“We had an understanding from the beginning that we’d call things the way we saw them and be very honest and open about things,” he said. “We didn’t always agree, but I think it worked out well.”
Meldrum said their accomplishments included thoroughly training the deputies.
“We’ve got some of the best trained deputies around. They’ve got specialized training all over the place,” he said.
Pike said some of his other accomplishments included starting the K-9 program, teaching D.A.R.E. at area schools and working extensively with the Canadian Border Services Agency on increased border patrol after 9/11.
Though his work week became more standardized by the 1980s, Pike said his career has always been anything but a traditional nine-to-five job. That lifestyle, he said, took a toll on those close to him.
Pike said he thinks becoming a police officer during his first marriage was what ended the relationship.
After five years of marriage, in 1967, his wife packed for what she said was a weekend trip to the World’s Fair in Montreal with other nurses from the hospital where she worked.
He never saw or heard from her again.
“I have no idea where she is today. She disappeared,” he said.
He said his second wife Sheila, now 66, met him as a police officer and knew what she was getting into when they married in 1972.
“She had the opportunity to know before the ceremony what she was inheriting after the ceremony,” he said.
She lived her whole life on the same street as he moved to, and he said one day he told her they’d either have to get married or pave a path straight from his house to hers.
“You could say I ended up marrying the proverbial girl next door,” he said.
Instead of naming solved cases or listing awards, Pike said he considers marrying Sheila to be his greatest accomplishment in the last 50 years.
Pike said he often thinks that if anyone has paid the price for his demanding career, it has been Sheila and their three children, who he said were often put on hold for work.
“You’d get all ready to go out somewhere and then a crisis would happen in the 11th hour and the plans would be off,” he said.
Pike’s busy schedule only increased over the years. On top of his officer duties, Pike became town selectman in 1998. He also has been the area’s National Weather cooperative observer since 1966, recording and submitting temperature and precipitation levels several times a day. Family and government officials say he loves participating in every parade and community events.
His daughter, Carol Ouellette, said she remembers times when the Christmas tree had to be put up a week late so he could be there for it.
She said the phone was always ringing and people would stop by at all hours of the night. He’d mow the lawn and three people would see he was home and stop by.
“Sometimes as a kid it would get annoying, but in the end I think he had patience with people that other people would not have given the time of day,” she said.
And people in crisis do not have to look hard to find him at any hour of the day.
His yellow house, bought shortly after he became an officer, is less than a mile from the sheriff’s department, and when he became sheriff he moved his office to his house and hung a sign up in the front yard that said “Sheriff’s Annex.”
“I doubt there are many people in the area who don’t know just where to find me,” he said.
People stop at all hours of the day at his Fairbanks Road home, and he said he always lets them in and tries to help with whatever problem they bring with them.
Meldrum said Pike has been known to talk for hours with people.
“Time doesn’t occur to him one bit and everyone who knows him will tell you this,” he said.
He said when he first became an officer, he thought people would be more likely to seek help from someone easy to talk to who made himself available.
“That’s always the kind of officer I wanted to be seen as. It may be the first time in a person’s whole life a situation had popped up and they are just looking for some help,” he said.
He said he’s never considered it a problem to have people know where to find him.
“I’ve been very open, very public and very exposed. I used to be a little distressed from the telemarketers, but no problems from the townspeople,” he said.
After 46 years at a job that never leaves, Ouellette said she can’t picture her dad slowing down after retirement. She said she thinks he will be as available to the community as he always has been.
“I don’t know if in his mind he’ll ever be ready to retire,” she said. “I think he thinks that’s what old people do, and he doesn’t really see himself there yet.”
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252