WINNEBAGO - The two men began their law enforcement careers in the 1970s, and were partners at one point. Now, Fairmont Police Sgt. Lowell Spee and Winnebago Police Chief Bob Toland are no longer wearing the shield.
"My life has drastically changed in the past year," Spee says. "But I feel I've been blessed. I lost my wife, suddenly, and that was tragic. Shortly after that, I lost my mother. But I call that a celebration of life because she was months away from being 95.
"Then I discovered I had cancer. But it was early detection, stage one and, after what I considered major surgery ... they confirmed they got it all ... I'm on a stringent plan now, testing every three months. But I beat it once, and making sure it's not coming back."
Lowell Spee and Bob Toland
While it all amounted to several, rapid hard knocks, Spee is determined to remain strong.
"There are many things where I could sit and say, 'Woe is me,' but I'm leaning on my family and friends," he said. "I'm 60 years old and I plan to have a lot of years left. I'm still going to be around and be a pain in the neck to those guys up there (at the law enforcement center). They're my new family because sometimes I've spent more hours with them than with my real family."
Spee also has been offered several volunteer opportunities. He is a member of the Fairmont Economic Development Authority, the Salvation Army board of directors and is taking more time for his church.
"I don't plan on fading away," he said. "I want to stay active. During my time off for my surgery, I learned something: daytime TV rots your brain."
Spee also wants to spend more time with his children and new grandchild.
Spee worked for the Fairmont Police Department full time since 1996. Prior, he had law enforcement jobs in Minnesota Lake, Faribault County, Blue Earth, Winnebago, Welcome, Sherburn, and for the Martin County Sheriff's Office.
Toland's career began an as MP in the Army before he began serving in Winnebago, Amboy and Mapleton police departments. Along with serving as chief in Winnebago and Amboy, Toland was chief deputy for the Faribault County Sheriff's Office.
It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s that Spee and Toland were partners.
"Our friendship struck up then and it held fast through the years," Toland said.
Together, the two have seen many changes in law enforcement.
"It's remarkable," Spee said. "The new officers are so savvy and smart picking up on the electronics."
"I remember when we didn't have 911," Toland said. "I helped build the first in-house 911 system in Faribault County."
While the two laugh when they reminisce about old cars and equipment, both realize they have been blessed in their careers.
"I was the lead investigator for Faribault County for many years," Toland said. "You hope you touch people's lives in a good way, and you're not sure how that's perceived. You have successes in cases beyond prosecution that affect people's lives. That's why I wanted to be a cop."
"I'm blessed in that I never had to shoot someone," Spee said. "I've drawn my gun, but never had to use it in the line of duty to take someone's life."
"I feel fortunate that I've never had to call upon an officer's family," Toland said. "I'm glad I never lost an officer."
In his retirement, Toland hopes to give more time to "The Thin Blue Line."
"It's a rolling memorial for the fallen officers of Minnesota," Toland said. "The display goes to funerals and travels nationwide. It's dedicated to the memories of the fallen officers and honors their sacrifice."
Like Spee, Toland doesn't plan to fade away. He also volunteers as board chairman of the adolescent treatment center in Winnebago, and vice-chairman at the area museum.
"Together, we have 75 years of police experience," Spee said. "It's heartwarming to know when you've made an impact on someone's life by bringing those to justice who need it and helping those who are victims. Sometimes those who have been brought to justice are the ones we touch the most. It's those that you can look back on and smile about."