One of the benefits of being a local journalist for 50 years is that you have the opportunity to see the many people who make a positive difference in our local communities. Sometimes, these people are in the spotlight, but in many other instances they are also doing their good deeds behind the scenes.

Earlier this spring, Jackson lost one of its most committed and most loved and respected citizens – Thomas Michael “Butch” Aldrich. Aldrich, a longtime Jackson Police Department (JPD), officer died unexpectedly on May 23 at the age of 69. Although he retired some years ago, he never retired from giving back to the police department and community he loved. Just weeks before his death, he worked a long day volunteering his time to help oversee the Jackson County Trout Festival.

Butch and I were contemporaries in that he graduated in 1971 from Jackson High School and myself two years later. Consequently, I was around to see firsthand the many good things he did in and for Jackson. He achieved his dream of being a police officer as a young man and served as a much beloved and respected officer with the JPD for 33-½ years. His wide and deep knowledge of the community, his zeal to protect and serve the citizens, his common sense, his people skills, and his innate ability to judge people (both good and bad) served him well when he was wearing the badge. In a job where you often have to be a tough guy, Butch was able to keep smiling and retain his good nature.

Aldrich rose to the rank of sergeant and in his later years became a much-admired mentor to some of the younger officers, as was evidenced by their heartfelt comments they made after his death. He was both popular and effective as a school resource officer at Jackson High School (JHS) and became a friend and valued colleague to both staff members and students alike on the JHS campus.

After working hours and even after retirement from JPD, he found plenty of time to give back to his law enforcement profession and the community. As a member of the Jackson Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), he was a longtime organizer and mainstay of the Jackson Trout Festival and he also spearheaded the local Shop With a Cop program, which had the noble aim of providing school clothes for children of needy families. He was also a longtime “Red Shirt,” the well-known local nickname for the Apple Festival Committee members. He was president for two consecutive years and served on the Committee for approximately 35 years.

Sometimes, police officers, by the nature of their work, are not always popular people in the community. Butch was certainly an exception; when he ran for Jackson City Council in 2017, he was easily elected in a contested race.

On a personal level, I can attest firsthand to Butch’s investigative abilities. In the early 1990s, my wife, Pam, and I were shocked and terrified when a stray bullet struck our home in the middle of the night with the bullet actually making it through the bedroom wall, ricocheting off a nightstand and landing next to the bed where we were sleeping. There were no suspects or witnesses and it appeared likely that we would never know who or why someone did this awful thing. Butch, who was school resource officer at the time, took it upon himself to investigate the matter. He talked to a lot of people, angling for information and any tip which might help his investigation.

His efforts paid off as the information he gathered led to the identification of a young man who had committed the crime. As it turned out, the shooter was under the influence of either alcohol or drugs and was reportedly firing aimlessly at a stop sign near our house. I will have to say his aim was way off, but that was his story. He was later convicted in court and paid for what he did. It was a big load off the mind of the Wilsons that we knew who was responsible and how the bullet was randomly fired in our direction. The case was solved because a police officer wouldn’t cast aside and forget a seemingly hopeless, dead-end case. My guess is that he solved many other cases over the years by simply not giving up and going the extra mile.

Without a doubt, Butch Aldrich was one of Jackson’s Finest, and we will miss him tremendously.