Mahaska County Sheriff Posse keeps watch at Southern Iowa Fair

Herald archive photoMembers of the Mahaska County Sheriff's Posse pose for a photo at the Oskaloosa bandstand in this archive photo from the 1980s.

MAHASKA COUNTY — If you have visited the Southern Iowa Fair since the 1960s then you would probably have noticed a camper with a canopy and a 1960s style rescue vehicle right in the center of the driveway that leads to the livestock barns.

The Mahaska County Sheriff Posse members monitor this station throughout the entire week of the Southern Iowa Fair. You will also be stopped at that intersection and a rope will be dropped so you can pass through.

But that is not all they do – The Mahaska Sheriff Posse serves the Mahaska County Sheriff’s Office in many ways. The posse assists with activities, sponsors events and handles crowd control for all special events in the county including the county fair.

The records indicate that there was a posse in 1977, but the latest and present posse was not organized until 1962. The posse was organized by Sheriff Walter Tharp and the way the posse members were selected was a little different than they are today.

“Back then you collected the guys that you wanted to work with you, guys that you could trust,” said Sheriff Russell Van Renterghem. “You just submitted their names to the state and they were certified sheriff reserve deputies. There was no organized training.”

According to Van Renterghem once you were a member you could stay a member of the posse until you retired or were kicked off the posse.

“In the 1990s or right around the year 2000 the State of Iowa through the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy ruled that when you are 66 years of age you are done in law enforcement,” said Van Renterghem. “Unless you are an elected official, then you can remain on the posse. That ruling decimated the Mahaska County Sheriff’s Posse.”

When formed in 1962, they were called the Mahaska County Mounted Sheriff Posse. There were three requirements to serve as a posse member. You had to be a citizen in good standing, you had to have a horse and you had to have a revolver. So when Tharp formed the posse he would have just notified the state and that is the only certification that was needed.

As a young police officer, Van Renterghem wanted to join the posse. But in the '80s there was a no double badges policy. You could not have a police or firefighter badge and become a member of the posse. You also had to be 24 years of age.

“There was also a waiting list to become a member of the Posse at that time,” said Van Renterghem. “But the age ruling dwindled the posse numbers from the maximum of 49 members. When I came into office two and a half years ago, the reserve unit was down to around 13 members.”

Van Renterghem wanted to build that number back up and currently, there are 30 members plus three reserve deputy members.

Van Renterghem and four deputies are certified instructors through Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, and new members can now be trained and certified locally. There is a lot of online training that can be done through the academy.

They did away with the no double badges rule.

“We have one police officer that is in the posse, said Van Renterghem.” We have also lowered the age limit to 21.”

“I don’t think the community realizes the thousands and thousands of hours this unit volunteers per year,” said Van Renterghem. “And they do it all without taxpayer dollars. They raise their own money by working the fair, by working the races, by working special events like the Leighton Fourth of July and the New Sharon Spring Festival.”

Last year, they added the Sheriff Posse/Reserve Barbeque Fundraiser. That event will happen again this year on Wednesday, July 17 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Stop out, enjoy some good barbeque, and say thank you to Mahaska County Mounted Sheriff Posse for all they do.

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