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Community remembers former sheriff as person who cared

WATFORD CITY -- Ron Rankin, 69, a former McKenzie County Sheriff known for calm leadership and community involvement, died Wednesday in hospice care at his home in Roy, Wash., of myeloma bone and blood cancer.

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Ron Rankin, former McKenzie County Sheriff, died Wednesday of cancer. Shown in this file photo from 2013, Rankin was very involved in the community during the many years he worked in McKenzie County. (Lauren Donovan/Bismarck Tribune)

WATFORD CITY -- Ron Rankin, 69, a former McKenzie County Sheriff known for calm leadership and community involvement, died Wednesday in hospice care at his home in Roy, Wash., of myeloma bone and blood cancer.

The only black man in the county at the time he said it took some time “for the extreme whiteness of his surroundings to sink in.”

“At first it was a shock, but I never felt more at home any place I’ve ever been,” he said.

And he was popular in the community -- elected twice as sheriff -- and also is remembered for the cool and calm leadership when the Bakken Oil Boom first took off bringing many strangers to the county.

His wife, Dee Rankin, said his death was peaceful and his ashes will be interred at the Tahoma National Cemetery next Saturday.

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Rankin retired in 2013 after seven years as sheriff and 22 years as a member of the Watford City Police Department. In an outgoing interview with the Bismarck Tribune, he said his illness was making him too tired to do the job properly and it was time to step aside.

“Collecting a paycheck and doing a half a job just wouldn’t be right,” he said at that time.

The Rankins had a blended family of six, and four of their children graduated from Watford City High School. Dee Rankin said their years there left rich memories.

“Our time in Watford City was just wonderful. What we most missed there was the people,” she said.

Ron Rankin had had a career in the U.S. Navy and Marines and stopped in Watford City for an interview, was given the job, fell in the love with the area and stayed for decades.

County emergency manager Jerry Samuelson said Rankin is remembered for his cool and calm demeanor in times of crisis and for how he handled himself and the public during the first years of the Bakken oil boom, with thousands of criminal and traffic cases every month, rising violence in the domestic and public sectors, and dozens of registered sex offenders moving in.

Samuelson said Rankin was able to defuse situations rather than escalate them and was all about the community with his spare time, especially with the town’s children, starting a flag football team, getting a skate park started, refereeing youth football games, coaching softball and leading Boy Scouts.

“He was very generous,” Samuelson said.

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Sarah Luebbe, formerly of Watford City, said Rankin was a great help to her family when her children were teenagers.

“He was a loving, caring person and a very fair officer. He was for the people,” Luebbe said.

Young adults who grew up in Watford City are posting social media tributes about how Rankin helped turn their lives around, according to Luebbe.

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