Ira Wallace Syck
Born: June 28, 1891
Died: March 31, 1949
Ira W. Syck was a popular, colorful and vigorous Mower County Sheriff during the Depression Era, a position he held 16 years. He was for many years one of the best known figures in public life in Mower County.
During the 16 years he served as sheriff, from 1927 to 1943, and in the preceding five years when he was deputy sheriff, Ira Syck was known by virtually everyone in Mower County. He also had a wide reputation for his enforcement record among sheriffs and crime bureau operatives throughout Minnesota and other states of the Midwest.
Ira was born of Danish and Scottish decent in Rose Creek, MN on June 28, 1891, the oldest child of Carl Marcus Syck and Isabelle M. Thompson Syck. Ira had a brother, Wallace Syck, who died in infancy in 1893. He also had two sisters: Ethel Mae Syck (Fred) Volkmann born in 1894, and Dorothy Evalyn Syck (Verne C.) Pike born in 1900. Both Ethel and Dorothy spent their lives in Mower County.
Ira acquired his early education in the schools of Brownsdale and Austin. Before the U.S. entered World War I, Ira was employed with a street car company in Detroit, Michigan when he decided to enlist with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on February 20, 1917 at age 27. His enlistment papers show his address as Winsdor, Ontario, Canada where he listed his employment as teamster.
During World War I, Ira was sent to fight in France. During the prolonged fighting at Paschendael Ridge Nov. 3, 1917, he was wounded with shrapnel and was gassed. Ira and a fellow soldier had to crawl out of the battle zone on their stomachs for a considerable distance to find safety and first aid. Ira was hospitalized in critical condition and was eventually sent to Carlyle, England for treatment over a period of many months before he finally recovered his health.
From the time of the incident and subsequent movements of Ira to England, the Canadian Army apparently lost track of him and he was considered "missing in action". His family in Minnesota feared he was dead until, much to their relief, they finally heard he was convalescing at a hospital in England.
The Syck family had friends in Minnesota who had relatives in England. Since traveling to see Ira personally was both an economic and logistical impossibility in those years, the family friends had their relatives make contact with Ira in the hospital. The relatives include the Pegg family and their daughter, Florence (Flo). Ira met his future bride in his British hospital and their relationship grew from there.
When Ira was well enough to go back to Minnesota, Flo soon followed. Ira and Flo eventually married in Brownsdale on Dec. 16, 1919 at his parent’s home. Flo and Ira had no children.
Ira received his honorary discharge from the Canadian Army on Jan. 25, 1919. He came back to Mower County and worked with his father’s grain elevator and was in charge of a filling station at Brownsdale.
Ira was hired into the sheriff’s office in 1922 as a deputy under the late Nick Nicholsen. For the next five years, Ira learned the law enforcement trade. When Sheriff Nicholsen decided not to run for re-election in 1926, Ira filed as a candidate and his election brought him into the Sheriff’s position the following January 1. He served for four 4-year terms and was re-elected each time with commanding leads over opposition candidates.
A popular figure as Mower County Sheriff, Ira Syck served during the turbulent years of the Depression when gangsters where in their "hey-day". Sheriff Syck was considered a good law enforcement officer and was fair and impartial. He had to deal with the laborers when they went out on strike at the Hormel Packing Plant in the depression years and apparently treated both sides fairly as major violence was adverted.
Those years also coincided with the prohibition era when many bootlegging cases added to the routine enforcement work of the office. He was a tenacious sheriff who spared no effort in apprehending criminals.
One of his frequent companions during his years as Sheriff was his English bulldog, Jiggs. Ira frequently took Jiggs along with him when he stopped in the various towns about Mower County. The kids loved to see the dog with the Sheriff and it added to his popularity.
In those days, the Sheriff lived at the jail and Flo would cook for the prisoners. Ira’s nieces, Evalyn Pike (Mrs. Dale) Hartson and Carol Pike (Mrs. Stanley) Anderson, remembered spending nights with Uncle Ira and Aunt Flo. Evalyn, being a little older, often helped Flo prepare the prisoners’ food. There was a slot in the kitchen wall where the food was passed to a trustee who then took the food to the prisoners. The prisoners were well fed according to Evalyn.
Ira’s nephew, Luverne C. "Bud" Pike, grew up on Hiway 56 just north of Brownsdale and remembered how Ira would give them a long hoot on his siren whenever he was driving by the farm on duty…Ira’s special "hello". Bud and his younger brother, Joe, as Ira’s only nephews, had a very good relationship with their Uncle Ira, who Bud considered his hero as a kid. Joe also had the distinction of bearing Ira as his middle name: Joseph Ira Pike.
Since Ira and Flo had no children of their own, Ira was close to his Pike and Vokman nieces and nephews. Both Evalyn Pike Hartson and Dorothy Volkmann Goss remember he was a playful tease with the kids and Carol Pike Anderson remembers that Ira would give the kids quarters, which back in the early 30s has some purchasing power. Carol further remembers that since money was tight in the Depression years, she didn’t have her own doll. And she’s always remembered that Ira and Flo bought her not only a doll, but a doll buggy to go with it.
Bud Pike remembers that Uncle Ira came to their place in the summer time hit fly balls to them and play some ball. Ira, a ball player himself in Austin softball leagues, would leave them balls, bats, and he even left Bud a glove. Ira also employed his niece, Dorothy, to help out in the Sheriff’s office.
Dorothy Volkmann, as a 15 year old, worked part-time at the Sheriff’s office and helped Ira collect delinquent real estate tax payments. It was Dorothy’s job to record the payments and take the subsequent deposits to the bank. She felt very important in helping Ira with this task.
Dorothy further remembers that Ira did not have a county sheriff’s car to drive around. He used his own black Buick as is sheriff’s car. He had it equipped with a siren and probably a red light, but back then the county didn’t have funds to provide a car for Ira’s use. Dorothy also remembers that Ira had only two deputies. One, an older man, stayed at the office and did not actively patrol or do many activities outside the office. His other deputy was more active outside the office and would more actively support Ira in his duties around the county.
As health issues started taking their toll on Ira, he was finally defeated in the 1942 election by Arnold Eckhardt. After leaving the Sheriff’s office, Ira took employment with the Milwaukee Road as an inspector, a position he held until his death.
Ira led an active life and was a very generous contributor to charitable drives and was an ardent sports fan. He was fond of bowling, fishing, and was a familiar figure on softball diamonds around Austin. Dorothy Volkmann Goss remembers that Ira would frequently participate in bowling tournaments on one time took her along to an out of town competition, which was big deal to her.
He had belonged to many organizations, including the Masons, Elks, Eagles, Modern Woodmen, Izaak Walton League, Kiwanis Club, and the International Sheriffs and Police Officers Association. He was also a member of the American Legion, and a charter member of Olaf B. Damm post, Veterans of Foreign Wars.
For some years, including his last few years as Sheriff, Ira was troubled with a heart ailment and a chronic lung condition as a result of the gassing he suffered in WW I. These health issues were not helped by Ira’s heavy smoking habits. At that time, the degree of damage caused by smoking was not known. This no doubt directly affected his longevity. In his last years, Ira’s heart further deteriorated, but he kept his illness to himself and mentioned it rarely even to intimate friends. Nephew Bud Pike remembers helping Ira with some banking business while employed at the First National Bank of Austin and noting that Ira was struggling more and more with his health.
Ira Syck died in his sleep at his home in Austin at 709 Crane on March 31, 1949. His death was sudden and a shock to his many friends. A special officer of the Milwaukee railroad in Austin, he was at work the day before his death. Not feeling well in the afternoon he went to the doctor who told him to rest at home for a few days. He was found dead the next morning by his wife about 6:45 a.m.
Ira’s death made the front page of the Austin Herald newspaper. A large contingent of family and friends laid Ira to rest in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin a few days later. His wife, Flo, never remarried. She died on September 20, 1992 and is buried next to him.
In an era of turbulence both nationally and locally, Ira Syck was a man of integrity who served Mower County as a fair and impartial law enforcement officer. Ira valued the family he had and was a kind and giving man to his nieces and nephews, who held him in high esteem. He left a great legacy as a servant of the Mower County people and warm memories of a good and decent man to his friends and family.
Written by David Pike, with contributions from Evalyn Pike Hartson, L.C. "Bud" Pike, Carol Pike Anderson, Kathy (Mrs. Tom) Pike, Chad Pike, Dorothy Volkmann Goss, Mark Ashley, and the Austin Herald.