Retired Beltrami County Sheriff shares stories about extraordinary officers

Retired Sheriff Keith Winger shines a light on the good work of law enforcement in his new book, "The Heart Behind the Badge."

Keith Winger's new book tells behind-the-scenes stories of law enforcement colleagues. It's the second book written by the former Beltrami County Sheriff. (Pioneer file photo)

BEMIDJI -- Keith Winger had the idea -- even the title -- for his second book long before law enforcement officers started making headlines in 2020.

The retired Beltrami County Sheriff has written “The Heart Behind the Badge” to shine a light on the work of area officers he describes as “ordinary people who led extraordinary lives.” The recently published book shares stories about law enforcement personnel Winger worked with or grew to know throughout his 35-year career.

Two years ago, Winger published his first book, "Badges and Guitars," a memoir about his life, music and career. Then he decided to begin work on the next book about colleagues in law enforcement.

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Retired Beltrami County Sheriff Keith Winger recently published his second book, "The Hearth Behind the Badge," which shares stories about law enforcement personnel he worked with or grew to know throughout his 35-year career.


“By the time we were done it certainly had become timely,” Winger said. “I had been thinking about so many of these people I had worked with or knew, and they went so far above and beyond what the job would call for. Nobody knows that. People need to know. This is just a smidgen of what’s out there.”

One of the 17 chapters is about George McKay, the man who gave Winger his first full-time police job. McKay was police chief in Alexandria, Minn. He came to Bemidji to interview Keith for a position on the force.

“He came up here and it was the first time I met him,” Winger said. “Talk about an intimidating man. He was a great big rugged-looking guy. Man, you don’t want to cross this guy. What I found out over the years was that his heart was as big as he was. Those looks were really deceiving. I’ve seen George shed tears. He was a guardian for so many of the down and outers around town. He took care of their finances and made sure they had a decent place to live. He treated me so good and it just made you want to do your job to the best of your ability all the time. What a mentor.”

Winger also writes about officers in Beltrami and Clearwater counties, such as longtime Beltrami Sheriff John Cahill, Blackduck Police Chief Dan “Buster” Savich, Clearwater Sheriff Ken Felt, Beltrami Emergency Management Director Beryl Wernberg and Beltrami Deputy Sheriff Howie Schultz.

“None of these were high profile people,” Winger said. “They were officers we found down at our local police station or sheriff’s office. They went about their business and people didn’t know.”

Winger says to this day when he talks with people about his career, they will inevitably mention how he never stopped them or gave them a speeding ticket.

“It’s like they think that’s all we did,” he said. “But that’s such a small part of it. They never know, and it’s not their fault. They don’t see it; they don’t hear about it. So I just want people to have a glimpse of what it was really like.”

Both of Winger’s books are available at Bemidji Woolen Mills and Books ‘N’ More in Bemidji. They can also be ordered directly from Winger by calling or texting (218) 556-7695 or emailing .

Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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