"Overall, I have been so blessed," Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen told the crowd. "The one thing I regret of my career is that I'm getting old and it has to end."
On Sunday evening, Missoula wished its outgoing sheriff farewell at a retirement ceremony in his honor.
"Carl is the reason I became a cop," said Rich Ochsner.
Ochsner was with the Missoula Police Department for 20 years before retiring as a detective. He said Ibsen was a "cop's cop" and one of the role models for many of the officers who entered law enforcement in Missoula.
"The first thing he said to me is, 'I'll always have your back, but I'll never lie for you,'" he said.
Ibsen was born in Glasgow and moved to Missoula in 1963. He is a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War with the 101st Airborne Division, and was also trained as an infantryman specializing in electronic warfare.
After the war, he came back to Missoula and joined the police department in 1972, working as a patrol officer, detective and in the anti-burglary unit. In 1978, Ibsen became the first motorcycle cop in Missoula. He was also a member of the SWAT team, underwater recovery team, and deputy county coroner.
In 1993, Ibsen began working for the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office and he was elected sheriff in 2010.
Brad Giffin, who worked in the Missoula County Sheriff's Office for more than 25 years before joining the University of Montana Police Department earlier this year and who lost the election for sheriff to Ibsen in 2010, said the department was put in good hands.
"Those positions aren't about the people who hold them, they're about the people who are served by them," he said.
He said he would remember Ibsen as the person that could always be depended on to be there when needed.
"If you ever worked the street with him you would understand," Giffin said.
While many of the people who told stories about Ibsen talked about knowing him as a lawman, former police chief and Missoula County Sheriff Doug Chase said one of his most prominent memories was meeting the now-sheriff when Ibsen had been attending a high school dance at Hellgate. A chaperon told Chase he thought Ibsen had been drinking. Chase came over and asked Ibsen if it was true.
"He said yes, very plainly like that. I said you run right home and you stay there or you'll be my companion for the night," Chase said. "Carl is a man of such integrity, you can't even put it into words."
Judge Ed McLean said that in the 40 years he knew Ibsen, he had never known him to say no to anyone that had a problem and wanted to discuss it.
“He wasn’t interested in turning anyone into a criminal, he was interested in getting at the truth,” he said.
Ibsen’s sons Leif and Trevor made it up for the event from their homes in North Carolina and Colorado. Both men are in the military, Leif in the Army and Trevor in the Air Force. They said growing up with an officer for a dad wasn’t always easy.
“Every cop in the county knew what cars my brother and I drove,” Leif said.
Ibsen’s wife Judy Wang was killed after being hit by a drunk driver near Anaconda in 2009. Trevor said the brothers have been asking their dad what he plans to do in his retirement.
“He said the first thing is he's going to move into one of our houses until he bugs us beyond belief, then he''ll switch houses,” he said.
Giffin also used the occasion to reveal the secret of how Ibsen's iconic mustache had been able to pass the uniform policy code on facial hair to the packed room at the Hilton Garden Inn.
"All the rule said was it couldn't extend past the mouth as far as downward. So he got some wax and made sure it went out," he said.
Undersheriff Josh Clark said he was 3 years old when Ibsen got his start in law enforcement. He said one of the things that impressed him most about Ibsen was that even after 43 years, he still had a sense of empathy and truly wanted to look out for the community he served.
“He has heart, but he doesn’t shirk from the tough decisions,” Clark said.
Ibsen said above all else, he's the most proud of all the people that he has worked with over the more than four decades in law enforcement. He acknowledged that recently, there have been reports of contention within the sheriff's department.
"We've had issues but you name me any family that doesn't," he said.