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Ralph "Buster" Talbot's proudest identity was as a family man, but generations of Anoka County residents knew him as "Sheriff."

First appointed to the top law enforcement position by the county commission in 1960, Talbot won re-election six times and become Anoka County's longest-serving sheriff.

A lifelong Anoka County resident and father of six, Talbot died at his Anoka home June 14 from complications of dementia. He was 86.

"He was a great teacher. He instilled in us a good work ethic," said his son, the Rev. Ralph Talbot. "What he taught was: It's all a gift. We owe something back to God, the community and the family, and he modeled that."

Talbot was born Sept. 27, 1929, the youngest of eight children. His parents were Coon Rapids dairy farmers.

"He learned how to work at a young age," said his son Timothy Talbot. "I know he was milking cows in the fourth grade. He vividly remembered how many cows he milked."

He was a tough, scrappy child who quickly learned how to stand up for himself as a young man.

"He participated in more than his share of barroom brawls. He was a tough kid," Timothy Talbot said.

Talbot graduated from Anoka High School in 1947. He followed his brother-in-law into the National Guard, where he served from 1951-52. He worked in the building trades until he heard then-Sheriff Mike Auspos was hiring deputies.

He got the deputy job in 1952 — the same year he married his sweetheart Kathryn (Hall) Talbot. Law enforcement ran in Talbot's family. His grandfather and great-uncle had both served stints as Anoka County sheriff. Talbot replaced Auspos, who retired in 1960.

"He was certainly a great public servant," Timothy Talbot said. "He empathized with all people."

As sheriff, he created the countywide radio system for emergency assistance. He formed a major-crimes investigation unit and he started contracting with smaller townships to provide law enforcement services.

"He saw it was much more cost-effective and convenient. He was familiar with the smaller communities," Timothy Talbot said.

And Talbot changed the deputy uniform, switching to a "ten-gallon Western-style hat" which was met with public approval, according to a history of the Sheriff's Office.

He also oversaw the construction of the county's first modern jail. After it was built, Talbot got a letter from an inmate thanking him for improving conditions.

"My dad kept it," said Ralph Talbot. "He was respectful of the prisoners and recognized them as humans."

He also insisted his deputies treat people they served with dignity.

Talbot pioneered the concept of crime prevention in the 1960s, according to a published history of the Sheriff's Office. He alerted residents to what deputies would be looking for and urged residents to call in suspicious behavior.

Talbot's influence extended beyond Anoka County. He served as president of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, was state director of the national sheriffs association and was an original member and chairman of the Minnesota Peace Officer Training Board.

Talbot retired from law enforcement in 1986. He then sold real estate for several years and focused on volunteer work and family.

Talbot is preceded in death by his wife. He is survived by his six children: Timothy, John, Thomas and Paul Talbot of Anoka, Patricia Hunt of Anoka, and the Rev. Ralph Talbot of White Bear Lake; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Talbot was also beloved by his seven nieces and nephews.

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804