Back the Blue: Guibersons tabbed JC parade grand marshals

Wednesday, September 2, 2020
True blue

Don and Emily Guiberson will be honored as Grand Marshals of the Dillon Jaycee Labor Day parade on Monday starting at 10 a.m. J.P. Plutt photo

In this, the year 2020, social unrest, a worldwide pandemic and political and economic turmoil headline the daily news. To focus positive attention on building community support for local law enforcement, the Dillon Jaycees have named Dillon Police Chief Don Guiberson and his wife Emily as grand marshals of the Labor Day parade. The parade theme is “Back the Blue.”

“It is very humbling,” said Don of the honor. “We talked about not doing it as far as my diagnosis. We’ve been very careful about not going anywhere, but I was so humbled and so honored to represent all the law enforcement officers that we were proud to accept.”

Don has been a member of the Dillon Police Department for 24 years. An Anaconda native and son of a former police chief, law enforcement plasma pulses through his veins. Yes, a true blue blood. In October of 2019, the lives of the Guiberson family were forever changed when Don was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL), a type of blood cancer.

Emily, A Missoula native, enrolled at UMW and Don was a young police officer with the Dillon PD when they met. They’ve been married for 15 of the 18 years they’ve been together and have two children. During that time, Emily became the first woman firefighter with the Dillon Volunteer Fire Department. In 2008 she became a full-time employee of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and is currently a forester. Last year, Emily was among the organizers for “Coffee with a Cop,” an outreach effort to bring law enforcement and community members together and establish a stronger bond.

“For the ‘Back the Blue’ stuff, the wives are 100% a part of everything too,” said Emily. “We feel everything that they feel and sometimes maybe even a little deeper, because we don’t understand all of the things that they’re having to deal with. We are so fortunate to be where we have so much support. Not everybody knows about Donnie’s diagnosis, but those that do have stepped up to the challenge.”

Emily spoke of the “Meal Train” initiated by friends and community members on behalf of the Guiberson family when Don was driving to Missoula for twice weekly chemotherapy treatments. A website allowed people to pick a date between January and March and commit to delivering a dinner to the Guiberson family.

“Every night Emily cried when we got the meal train,” said Don. “At the time, I was so physically weak, and our kids are active and we had so much going on. I am very honored to be next to her at the parade. I feel she is the one that should be the marshal by herself. I’m extremely lucky. I married up. I’m extremely lucky.”

There was a little luck involved in Don even finding out that he had cancer. A work-related concussion had been causing issues for the chief and he began to feel more poorly as the months passed. He heard that Barrett Hospital and HealthCare had a community screening going on, so he went and got tested. On Oct. 1, 2019, the Guiberson’s were notified of the diagnosis. The treatment was chemotherapy and Guiberson had the option of delaying the process.

“I was feeling so miserable, I decided to get it done right away,” Don admitted. “I wasn’t planning on COVID.”

From November to early December, Don drove to Missoula for chemotherapy and then took a planned break to allow his body to recover. In late January he started twice a week, 12-hour sessions that lasted a month, and then had weekly chemotherapy for another month. In May and June he finished the treatment with once a month chemotherapy. He is now on anti-immune medication, continuing his susceptibility to the COVID virus.

“The city, and the mayor in particular, has allowed me to work remotely, so all of my stuff is at home,” explained the chief. “I field calls all day, all night. We’ve had virtual squad meetings and squad meetings outside. It is unbelievable the support I have had from them, the law enforcement community and the community as a whole.”

In the United States, the pandemic blew up in the middle of Don’s treatment schedule, making his life even more difficult. Emily and the kids could not accompany Don to Missoula, nor could they sit with him through the hours of treatment. Don would drive to Missoula, park in the parking lot, take a special elevator to his treatment. When the chemotherapy was finished, he would take the elevator down to the parking lot, get in his truck, and drive back to Dillon.

During the intense chemo sessions in March, the shooting near the Dairy Queen resulted in the death of a homicide suspect from the Lewistown area who fired upon local law enforcement officers. The suspect died in the gun battle.

Don had a 12-hour chemotherapy session the day after the shooting and fielded constant phone calls from law enforcement agencies, his officers, and the media. Most of the calls were from people who did not know of Guiberson’s diagnosis, nor did they know he was undergoing chemotherapy as they spoke on the telephone.

“Throughout this whole thing with ‘Back the Blue,’ it has caused a division with the ‘Black Lives Matters’ thing, somehow for some reason,” said Don. “It is not a movement, it is just saying we appreciate the police officers.”

Don points out that there are bad apples in every profession and feels it unfair that the roughly 700,000 officers in the United States are suddenly under attack due to the infractions of those bad apples.

“Everybody knows that when you kneel on a guys neck, bad things are going to happen,” pointed out the chief. “Unfortunate is not a strong enough word. It is terrible for those families, for the black community, for law enforcement. But there are cops that every day go to their jobs and do all kinds of little things that they don’t have to do, but make their communities better. I wish we could also see that footage.”

Guiberson admits he doesn’t have experience with big city police actions or challenges. He does know that in the Dillon PD, officers are constantly reminded that they serve the community.

“Do we make the community happy all of the time? Absolutely not,” said Don. “It is a tough job and we have to make tough decisions. The officers we have now, I am so proud of them. They make mistakes, I make mistakes, but it is never done with malice. I have found that these officers are good people, and when you hire good people, you can train them to be policemen.”

Across the country, there are places where the talk revolves around defunding law enforcement agencies. During Don’s 24- year tenure with the Dillon PD, he has found that the community of Dillon has always backed the blue. At one point several years ago the police retirement system was for all practical purposes, broke. The community passed a levy to tax themselves and get the retirement account on sound financial footing. More recently, the department needed two more officers, but didn’t have the funding. Once again, the community voted to fund the addition of the officers.

“The thing I am most proud of in my tenure are those two things, and they had nothing to do with anything that I did,” said the chief. “The community made both of those things happen. The pride I have in my career is directly related to the way our community is.”

In Dillon, the community “Backs the Blue,” and that fact will be celebrated on Labor Day, through the streets of downtown Dillon, during the Dillon Jaycee Labor Day parade.

“I can’t even describe in words how thankful and grateful we are to the people of Dillon,” concluded Guiberson. “We landed in the place for us, we couldn’t be in a better place.”