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New York Mills police officer Ron Smith passes away after weeks-long battle with COVID-19

Beloved by many in the Perham, New York Mills, Wadena and Motley communities he served during his 14 years in law enforcement, Smith will be remembered as a "really good guy" who was “pretty phenomenal," according to a few of those closest to him.

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Ron Smith, a well-known and beloved police officer in New York Mills, is battling COVID-19. (Contributed / GoFundMe/ Perham Focus)
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New York Mills police officer Ron Smith passed away Dec. 15 after a weeks-long battle with COVID-19.

Beloved by many in the local communities he served during his 14 years in law enforcement, Smith will be remembered as a "really good guy" who was “pretty phenomenal," according to a few of those closest to him.

Smith was admitted to Lakewood Health System in Staples on Nov. 26 and was put on a ventilator to help him breathe. He was later transferred to St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, where he remained on machines until Dec. 15.

“They need all the prayers they can to get through today,” said Tina Gritz in an interview just hours before Smith's death.

Gritz is married to Perham Chief of Police James Gritz and works at Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes, and is the person behind a GoFundMe page created for the Smith family to encourage prayers and give people a way to help.

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Gritz said tough situations like this make people feel helpless, as things are “in the hand of God,” and added that offering prayers and donations is a way to do something.

Smith served as a police officer in New York Mills, Perham and Wadena, and as a part-time deputy with the Wadena County Sheriff’s Office. He previously served as the Motley Chief of Police and worked as a probation agent for Todd-Wadena Community Corrections . When he joined the New York Mills team, Gritz said, he planned to stay until retirement.

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Perham Police Officer Ron Smith has been recognized as an Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer by the Otter Tail County Safe Communities Coalition. Submitted photo

From previous corrections clients to fellow law enforcement peers, Smith was “well-respected,” said Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr.

During Carr’s time as a patrol deputy, he sometimes rode with Smith and answered Smith's questions about policing. Carr said Smith had a “burning desire” to make the switch from corrections to law enforcement at around 40 years old.

“It doesn’t matter who he deals with … he’s just got a good disposition about him,” Carr said before Smith's passing.

He was “such a positive person,” said Gritz.

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“Ron is a wonderful guy and has been a part of our communities giving back,” the Wadena Fire Department wrote in a Facebook post during Smith's hospitalization. “Help out Ron during this difficult time and give him prayers.”

Smith was always proud to talk about his family, grandchildren, and their farm in Motley, Gritz said, adding that Smith and her husband developed a close relationship when raising their “wild child” teenagers. Smith had a knack for forming friendships with people, as he enjoyed spending hours of time chatting and sharing stories.

He wasn't “just a 'Hi' and 'Bye' person,” Gritz said.

“One thing about Ron that I’ve always admired and liked about Ron was his character and his faith, (he's a) very strong person that way,” Carr said.

To support the Smith family, they encourage prayers. A GoFundMe donation page is also available. Smith's obituary may be read online at itenfuneralhome.com/obituary/Ronald-Smith .

Rebecca Mitchell is a Multimedia Reporter for the Wadena Pioneer Journal and Perham Focus. She loves capturing local stories through words, photos and videos, and providing resources for the community.
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