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Remembering one of Minnesota’s woman sheriffs — the Lyon County connection

March 5, 2012
By Ellayne Conyers , Marshall Independent

Part III:

Keeping extremely busy as the sheriff and mother of two young babies often required a bit of domestic help. I was fortunate to be able to hire from time to time high school senior girls who were very competent. They not only took care of the children but also did some light housekeeping and handled telephone responsibilities in the adjoining sheriff's office as that was a 24-hour, seven days a week job!

When my sheriff's term of office expired, I did not run for re-election. I left the "sheriff's role" behind and focused again on being "mother" to my two young daughters. I moved from the sheriff's office and big house to an apartment in Marshall. I hadn't really had time to stop and think about all the responsibilities and tension that I had been under while being sheriff until I was away from the office.

Thinking back over the years, the time spent being sheriff and a sheriff's wife hold truly special memories, which I will always remember.

Viola Croft, also earned an article in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune on May 19, 1946, where reporter Russell Aslesen wrote the following: "Petite Mrs. Viola Croft is not the nemesis of Lyon County lawbreakers - and that's by her own admission. However, she's in a position to be just that. Since last Jan. 14 she's been Minnesota's only woman sheriff.

She had made one arrest in her term. Alone at the office one day, she got a call from out in the county to investigate the peculiar actions of an elderly man living in an old shack. She decided the matter couldn't wait.


It must be admitted the little sheriff - 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 115 pounds and 'not bashful about telling it' - is brave.

She went out to the shack, talked to the man until he calmed down, and then persuaded him to come into Marshall with her. 'Everything went all right until I got him into a cell and turned the key,' she said. 'Then, he became violent.'

She prefers not to speculate as to what she would have done if he had objected sooner.

Mrs. Croft also takes care of women prisoners in Lyon County, but so far this year had had only one to deal with. In fact, she says lawbreakers of the county must be reforming. For the past week, the jail has been empty. 'It can't be that they're afraid of the sheriff,' she declared.

Few women served as sheriff in those early years - and only if their sheriff husband died in office. It was customary then for the wife, if she were so willing, to serve out her husband's term. She could then choose to run for the office when the term expired. This would never happen today. If a residing sheriff dies in office, a deputy would be appointed. Viola was the second woman in Lyon County to serve as sheriff. The first was Mrs. John Monroe who did so in 1922, again as a result of her husband's demise. Viola Croft chose not to run in the 1946 election. Roland Rans was then elected sheriff and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1970.

In a letter from Carol Croft Ladd, she gives an update on her mother, who turned 85 on May 1 of this year (2001) and lives in Oregon near her daughter. "After my dad's death, my mom remained a widow for seven years - then married Walter E. Jones who built the state-of-the-art (at that time) Marshall Theater. She often could be found selling tickets in the booth out in front. With television coming into households - along with financial commitments he couldn't make - Walter Jones 'lost' the theater. Our family moved to Fresno, Calif., where he managed a chain of theaters." After Jones' death, Viola was a widow for 20 years before marrying Alden Hazen in 1983. Hazen passed away in 1997.

As reported by the Marshall Independent issue of Jan. 31, 2012, Viola I. Croft died Jan. 24, 2012, at the age of 95 years in Yakima, Wash.



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