Iowa State Patrol Colonel Lays Badge Down After 32 Years

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Protecting Iowa roadways looked and felt a bit different when Colonel Michael Van Berkum joined the force in 1985.

"There were no cell phones. We didn't have radios when we were outside the automobile. We didn't even have electric windows," he said.

For the Rock Valley native, preserving the pride for the badge stayed the same.

"My dream was to take care of people," said Van Berkum.

For 32 years, he did exactly that.

"The best part of the whole job was watching everyone and seeing how well they do," he said.

On Friday, it was the community's turn to thank him for a job well done at the Briarwood Club of Ankeny.

"Wow, dynamic. I think that describes everything that he does. He does it in a dynamic way," said Jen Schuller, a fellow member of Briarwood Club of Ankeny.

Longtime friend Eugene Miller, president of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, said Iowans were lucky to have Van Berkum spearheading the Iowa State Patrol.

"He followed in the footsteps of many great leaders and did just as good of a job or better than most," he said.

Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew saw the potential to become Colonel when the two were just bright-eyed rookies out of the academy.

"When you stop someone, it's always courtesy, and I think that's been the motto of the state patrol, and he just exuded professionalism and courtesy," said Drew.

In the Iowa State Patrol's 82 year history, Van Berkum is the 15th to serve as colonel. While dozens in Ankeny thanked him for his service, he says it was the community that inspired him to rise to the top.

"They've humbled me. They've made me excited and just the knowledge I've learned from everybody else, there's no price for that."

Van Berkum says he's thankful technology makes him realize how advanced keeping the roads safe has become.

"From speed controls to braking cars and now cars are starting to drive themselves."

He also says it has proven just how much work troopers still have ahead of them.

"If we can keep people's hands off their phones as they are driving, that would reduce accidents immensely," said Van Berkum.

His three decades on the roads have taught him to believe Iowans can make that change.

"Our job is being kind to people. That's the main mission of our occupation and I hope that is what people can take away," he said.

Jeff Ritzman has been tapped as the new Colonel of the Iowa State Patrol.