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Lt. Rick Ruppert Retires From Lengthy Law Enforcement Career in Watauga County

By Sherrie Norris

Celebrating with Lt. Rick Ruppert, center, on his retirement from Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, are from left: Captain Preston Russell, Major Kelly Redmon, Sheriff Len Hagaman and Captain Carolyn Johnson. Photo submitted.

It was a bittersweet moment for Rick Ruppert when he signed off Sunday evening, Jan 29, for his last time as a lieutenant with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. His final“10-42” message to the dispatchers in the communications center signaled the end to more than just a regular 12-hour shift. This time, it marked the end of his career as a full-time law enforcement officer in Watauga County. Many of those on the other end of his final call, dispatchers and fellow officers alike, responded with words and audible emotions that confirmed a close brotherhood,  fondness for their departing comrade and best wishes for his retirement. Countless social media messages have since further corroborated the fact that he will be missed. 

Since coming to work with Watauga Sheriff’s Office in 2009, Ruppert  developed a close working relationship with his fellow officers and took the picture of community service to a new level.  But, Ruppert shared with High Country Press, it was the early days, as far back as 1988, that set his pace while working for the Town of Blowing Rock maintenance and street department. 

“In 2001, I decided to go to basic law enforcement training and started to withdraw my retirement to pay my way through school. A great law enforcement officer and  the town’s police chief, Owen Tolbert, talked me into leaving my retirement funds alone —  and that is why I am here, where I’m at today.”

 And so it was that Ruppert began his law enforcement career in the shadows of Chief Tolbert at the Blowing Rock Police Department soon thereafter.

Rick Ruppert pictured with his K9 partner Elvis, his son Ethan at left and his wife Sandra, at the retirement party for Elvis in  January 2022. Photo submitted.

“After Chief Tolbert retired,  Blowing Rock Police Department just wasn’t the same to me,”  Ruppert said. “I left there in 2009 and came to the Watauga county Sheriff’s office.”

The next 14 years saw Ruppert rising through the ranks from deputy to field training officer, member of the swat team — and more. He has lost count of the many certifications he’s received in various areas of law enforcement. But, he does not hesitate to say that his favorite career opportunity was working as a canine handler. 

“There was nothing like being paid to play with dogs,” he said. “ Every canine handler will tell you they have the best dog. If you don’t believe me, just ask them. I am no different. I firmly believe that Elvis is one of the best canines there ever was. I was lucky to work with him from 2013 to 2022.”

 Law-enforcement is the only job Ruppert ever had, he said,  that when the alarm clock went off, he was ready to get up and go to work. “I love what I have been able to do and I’ve made a lot of special friends along the way. I know I will miss it, but I will not miss working the 12-hour rotating shifts.”

When asked about the most challenging times of his career, Ruppert again never hesitated to respond. “July 26, 2012 and April 28, 2021. I lost three good friends and great deputies. They were young men with a bright future ahead of them. I still don’t understand why they’re gone and I get to retire. But, I know that God has a plan.”

Friends at Blue Ridge Diner in Deep Gap surround Rick Ruppert during one of his last “official” visits to the popular restaurant. Photo submitted.

Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman shared with HCP on Tuesday,

“Lt. Rick Ruppert is one of those people who doesn’t like the limelight  and never wants any fuss made over him for simply doing his job — but he is one who would always lend a hand when needed, or do something when asked.”  

Hagaman said Ruppert was a mentor to many “new” officers. “He would quietly give advice and many have said, ‘If it comes from Rick, it’s going to be spot on.’”

Hagaman continued, “Rick was such a great K9 handler, too. He and K9 Elvis racked up a solid search record in an attempt to keep narcotics off of the street.”

He also described Ruppert as a “no nonsense” deputy. “He knew the law and applied it in a fair and calm manner.”

One of Hagaman’s favorite memories involving Ruppert goes like this:

“Rick, answering a domestic violence call, along with his shift partners, watched in amazement as a frozen Thanksgiving turkey flew past him, almost striking a female in the house. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the individual who sailed the turkey at a female in the house was taken into custody without further escalation.”

Seriously, the sheriff concluded, “ Rick will be missed, and it is our hope that he enjoys his well-deserved retirement.”

In recognition of Ruppert’s dedicated service to Watauga County, a retirement luncheon was held in his honor at the agriculture conference center in Boone on Friday. Other private events have been  hosted for him, as well, and his friends at Blue Ridge Diner in Deep Gap made a special attempt to express their appreciation to him last week. BRD owner Tina Watson said, “We wish our favorite Sheriff Rick a happy retirement. He deserves it!  Now, he can rest, relax and enjoy life. And that means he can come eat with us more often! We thank him for his service and most of all, for his friendship.”

When asked who has been his greatest inspiration throughout his career, Ruppert responded, “I have worked with a lot of great officers that I really respect, but Owen Tolbert was the one who really inspired me. He told me early in my career to put God first, then my family, and then the job. He taught me a lot of different things that I have tried to apply in my career.”

So, what now, we asked? “ I look forward to more time hunting, fishing and riding my Harley,”  he said. “I will probably work a couple times a month with the hospital police.”

He also hopes to stay active with helping train and certify the canines through the Law Enforcement Canine Association. 

And hopefully, his wife, Sandra, (counselor at Green Valley School) has her ‘honey-do list’ ready and waiting. 

Rick Ruppert as a young officer beginning his law enforcement career at Blowing Rock Police Department. Photo submitted.

Rick and Sandra are  the parents of two sons, Jacob, who is stationed in Germany with the US Army, and Ethan, a sophomore at Appalachian State University.

Ruppert is the son of  Estie Ruppert of Blowing Rock and the late Dwight Wayne Ruppert who passed away in June 2022. 

From Watauga County as a whole, we wish Rick Ruppert many healthy, happy years ahead and thank him and his family for the sacrifices they have made for us all.