WA County reserve deputy looks back on storied career

Longtime Washington County Reserve Deputy Gary Glaeser, diagnosed with terminal cancer, was honored by colleagues at a gathering in September at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve. (Linda Baumiester/Review)

The Washington County Sheriffs Department, including Sheriff Bill Hutton, far left, shared greetings, stories, and well wishes with Gary Glaeser and his wife Terri, seated in the Nordic Center at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Gary Glaeser is fighting cancer General Patton style

A man who has devoted himself to not only protecting the residents of Washington County, but the nation as a whole, has refocused his efforts on fighting a battle with the disease.

To say Glaeser, 69, of Oakdale has lived an interesting life would be an understatement.

The recently retired Washington County Sheriff's Department reserve deputy has rubbed shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the world, and has traveled to 39 countries, escorting diplomats around the globe during his time in the U.S. Air Force.

Glaeser had a distinguished 26-year career in the USAF, retiring as an E9 chief master sergeant—the Air Force's highest enlisted rank.

He has dined with such world leaders as Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. He even sipped cocktails in Moscow with Russia's first elected president, Boris Yeltsin.

And, perhaps most notably, he was an assistant to Henry Kissinger when the former secretary of state served as chairman of the Commission on Central America to help shape U.S. foreign policy with Central American nations under President Ronald Reagan in 1983.

Glaeser says he had the responsibility of ensuring there was top-notch security for the diplomat, as well as setting up meetings and answering countless congressional inquiries while serving on that mission.

He says he got to know Kissinger personally and particularly remembers the time when he “saw a side to him I'd never seen before.”

“I was accustomed to this well-educated diplomat. Then on the plane [to a Central American country] we were going through massive amounts of paperwork, and [Kissinger] came back to talk to me. We were like two Joe Blows just sitting down talking.”

Glaeser says that trip was a highlight for him while in the Air Force and he still remembers it well.

“It was very interesting. It was an education,” he says enthusiastically. “I loved it and really enjoyed that tour. It was physically exhausting working with [Kissinger]. You gave him an hour nap and he would get up and work non-stop from 8 a.m. to 10 or 11 at night.”

Washington County Reserves

It's no surprise that a person with Glaeser's high-ranking military experience made an exemplary reserve deputy.

“He was so dedicated to his position,” Washington County reserve deputy Roberta “Bobbi” Olson says. “He pretty much started the whole reserve academy.”

Following 26 years in the military, Glaeser moved to Oakdale and joined the Washington County Sheriff's Department reserves as a volunteer where he dedicated himself for over 17 years.

“When I took over running water, parks and trails, Gary came in as a volunteer,” Washington County sheriff's commander Jerry Cusick says. “He was my right-hand man, and I relied on him heavily. He did a tremendous amount of work coordinating staff, events, everything. And not just for the reserves, but for the sheriff's office as a whole.”

Cusick says Glaeser was always very direct with what was needed, and he could always count on him to get the job done.

“I can't say enough good things about him. He cared deeply about what he did. He's very dedicated and passionate.”

At a speech at Glaeser's retirement party in September, Washington County sheriff's deputy Jim Thienes, says the county's reserves had been called out 82 times since May 1998, and says Glaeser was there for all but a handful.

“I spent more time with Gary than any other reserve,” Thienes says. “He modeled service, leadership, devotion to duty, all the while being humble. There was not a job he would ask someone to do that he himself would not do.”

The sheriff's department honored Glaeser with a Meritorious Service Award for his 17 years of service in September.

Glaeser's last shift as a reserve came with the monumental task of managing parking for the funeral of Mendota Heights patrolman Scott Patrick, who was killed while on duty July 30. 

Glaeser says there were over 1,000 squads from all over the Midwest and from as far away as Pennsylvania and Canada. The Aug. 6 funeral procession stretched over eight miles, from St. Stephens Lutheran Church in West St. Paul to Acacia Park Cemetery in Mendota Heights.

“We all worked together not for each other but for officer Patrick's family,” Glaeser says.

It was the eighth police officer's funeral he worked as a reserve deputy.

“They don't get any easier,” he admits. “That was the largest funeral I've worked. You pull it together no matter what and do it for the law enforcement family. You bundle up if it's cold. If it's 90 degrees you drink more water.”

The diagnosis and the fight

Coincidentally, it was heat exhaustion the day of Patrick’s funeral that Glaeser says may have saved his life.

After work that sultry summer day he returned home to take a shower. While in the shower, Glaeser suffered a massive seizure, which he believes was brought on by the heat exhaustion he developed while on duty that day.

“I was hanging on the grab bars in the shower while having a seizure, shaking tremendously and was helped out by my wife [Terri],” he recalls.

At the hospital doctors performed a serious of tests. A CAT Scan revealed three brain tumors. On Aug. 20, Glaeser had a brain biopsy and then found out he had terminal brain cancer five days later.

True to form, Glaeser committed himself to fighting the disease with everything he's got.

“I follow General Patton's philosophy: attack, attack, attack,” he says. “They're giving me the most aggressive treatment my body can handle.”

He has been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy the last several weeks and says so far his body is responding well to the treatments.

He says doctors at the Veterans Medical Center in Minneapolis will reevaluate his condition when treatment ends in March.

Remarkably, Glaeser beat cancer once before. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011.

“We've played this before. It doesn't make it any easier than before,” he says. “I'm going to fight this with every fiber of my body.”

Terri retired from her corporate job with Well's Fargo recently to care for her husband and says he is very determined.

“As long as I've known him he's been a very strong person,” she says. “No matter what [doctors] told him he would have dove right in, approaching it with the same strength. I'm really proud of him for that.”

Terri says she is also extremely proud of her husband's support of fellow veterans being treated for cancer at the VA hospital.

“He helps them with paperwork and encourages them in every way he can. He's been a cheerleader and a champion for them,” she says. “I'm a little in awe of the man; and I'm lucky enough to be his wife.”

Glaeser says the entire staff at the VA hospital has been excellent. “They have wonderful doctors, nurses, technicians and administrative staff.”

Glaeser says what he will miss most from working with the reserves is the camaraderie and the “espirt de corps” with the other deputies.

“I believed in the program and over the years helped to train, recruit and deploy over 200 Washington County reserves. It's just a good organization; a great group of guys that pulls together to go above and beyond when they are needed, he says proudly”

 Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.


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