When Tom Dion first started up with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office in 1999, then-Sheriff Mark Hecker had his back.
“He was a big influence,” Dion recalled. “He taught me everything – from just learning the law, learning the proper way to carry out law enforcement and just to have strong character.”
Hecker made a big impression on Dion years earlier, though. Dion and Hecker met when the latter was chief deputy for the department and the boss of Dion’s nephew, who was working as a Butler County deputy at the time. After their first meeting, Dion and Hecker forged quite a friendship, which included significant time on the links.
“We were friends, golf buddies. Everything just clicked from the beginning,” Dion said. “We had the same ideas, same goals, both family-oriented. We just meshed.”
Dion spent 16-and-a-half years with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, reaching the rank of sergeant, but things got rough for him personally. First, in 2014, the Dions lost their second-oldest daughter, 26-year-old Melissa, to cystic fibrosis, a defective gene causes a thick, sticky buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. Then in August 2015, Hecker died unexpectedly of a heart attack.
“It was a tough year that year,” Dion said, noting he decided to step away from the sheriff’s office in January 2016 because of those losses and the death of his mother in 2015. “I think the time away helped. Time does heal some wounds.”
Almost three years later, Dion is heading back home to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. In the Nov. 5 general election, Dion was elected sheriff by picking up 1,722 votes (50.16 percent) over incumbent sheriff Marcus Siebken, who got 1,306 votes (38.04 percent) and 405 (11.80 percent) write-ins (Republican write-in candidate Shawn Gray was the most noticeable write-in candidate), per unofficial election results posted Nov 6. Butler County residents voted in favor of Republicans in many other races, making the victory for Dion, a Democrat, even more interesting.
“A Dem. Never thought I’d see the day when a Dem would win in Butler County. Congratulations!” Terry Rumler wrote on The Banner-Press’ Facebook page after it posted Dion was announced as the winner.
Dion was in good spirits two days after the election.
“I’m very good, very excited, relieved that it’s over and happy with the turnout,” Dion said on Nov. 8. “I believe it says a lot about my character that you can cross party lines and people will vote for the candidate they feel is most worthy of the position.”
Dion, who has worked at the power plant in David City since March 2016, didn’t do anything major on election night. Instead, he said his family had a few relatives over to host a nice get-together as results came in. The next day, he was back at work helping out with a maintenance project at the power plant.
“My phone was ringing nonstop,” Dion said, with a laugh. “I tried to answer as many calls as possible. People were calling to congratulate me and I appreciated that.”
Among the many calls Dion got were from Butler County Board of Supervisors members and County Attorney Julie Reiter.
“I believe he is a genuine individual and I believe he will strive to do a good job,” Reiter told The Banner-Press, noting she first met Dion back in 2007 when he was a deputy. “I will work with any sheriff within the office and obviously this is change, but I look forward to working with Tom.”
Dion said he will resign from his post with the power plant and his part-time officer position with the Humphrey Police Department in Platte County so he can focus all of his energy into his new position, which he will take the helm of Jan. 3.
Humphrey Police Chief Anthony Miller, who noted Dion started helping his department earlier this year, said Butler County is getting a special individual. The chief said he made a point to call Dion to congratulate him on his new endeavor.
“He’s willing to go the extra mile. I think he’ll do a fantastic job,” Miller said. “He’s pretty approachable, stops to talk with people. He’s really likable and has done a good job for me. I think he’ll do good job down there because he cares about the job, doing it the right way and he cares about the people who he is serving.”
Although Dion has a couple of months before he takes the reins, he is undoubtedly prepared. Dion said getting to know his deputies is one of his biggest priorities moving forward. Then it will be about getting the community more familiar with the department.
“I’m going to make sure we go to more events and get out and meet the people in all of the different towns. I hate to say the word, but old school,” Dion said, adding his appreciation to Butler County residents for believing in him and taking the time out of their schedules to vote. “We’ve got to have that old school mentality of getting out and talking with people Instead of just being that law enforcement officer driving by. I want to get the department up back to where it needs to be.”
For Dion, it’s also a chance to carry on the legacy of Hecker, who he cited as his close friend and a mentor.
“Mark was a very good, loving family man. He was loyal,” Dion said. “Butler County meant everything to him; it was his home county.
“So I think he would have liked this. He would just tell me to continue with what we started back then and to just treat people with respect and to enforce the law the right way. It’s an honor that I can carry on what I took from him and move on in that same position … Thank you to the people of Butler County. I am looking forward to serving.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.