Ivan Fossen to receive ‘Lifetime’ Achievement’ award on May 23

By Marie Chan


If you live in Glenwood, chances are you have crossed paths with retired chief of police, Ivan Fossen, affectionately known as “Chief” to many. Standing tall with a distinctive handlebar mustache, Fossen has left an indelible mark on this community. Despite retiring 23 years ago, he has filled the years since with continued dedication to public service, so it is no surprise that he has been chosen to receive the Lakes Area Chamber 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award on May 23rd. 

Throughout his career, Fossen exhibited not only strength of character and integrity but also a remarkable depth of compassion and empathy. While he possessed the authority and strength required for his role, he recognized that not everyone he encountered was inherently bad; some simply needed help.

Fossen’s dedication to the community extends well beyond his years in law enforcement to today. Driven by a deep desire to “pay it forward,” he has found ways both significant and subtle, to contribute his time, skills and heart in honor of the grace and kindness he received, especially in his youth when it made all the difference.

He has served on the hospital board for over 20 years, co-founded the Hospice motorcycle ride fundraiser and is involved with the Be Kind movement, a group focused on fostering positivity and acts of kindness. He served on the Ridgewood Villa board of directors for several years, as well as the Board of Minnesota Chiefs of Police, where he played a pivotal role in organizing spring and fall training programs for law enforcement professionals. He collaborated with Dan Hendricks to build a program dedicated to helping disabled hunters that attracted participants from 13 states in its inaugural year.

Fossen has also volunteered for the radio-thon to end child abuse, emphasizing the importance of protecting vulnerable children. Additionally, he shared his knowledge and expertise by teaching firearm safety for nearly two decades. 

Fossen’s impact extends far beyond Glenwood. He is an active Minnesota coalition member working with former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords on gun safety, passing gun safety laws and saving lives from gun violence.

Despite the recognition of others for his unwavering service to community, Fossen remains humble and unassuming. His humility shines through in almost every conversation. When informed of being chosen for the award, he remarked to his daughter, Sarah Fossen, “My goodness. There are so many other people who have actually done so much, I don’t see why I would be chosen.”

Sharing a similar sense of humor with her father, and witnessing his remarkable impact firsthand, Sarah says, “I told him to get over it and accept it – he’s been chosen.”

A Glenwood native, Fossen was raised alongside four brothers by his mother, who became a single mother when he was a young child. “We were poor as church mice growing up. I mean we had nothing, nothing,” he says of his childhood. Despite humble beginnings, he speaks with fondness of his childhood and of lessons learned through hard work and accountability, as well as the many kindnesses shown to him along the way.  

Sarah shared, “His upbringing could have steered him down a bad path but somehow he followed a path of goodness and kindness.”

Inspired partly by his friend and mentor, Phil McMahon, Fossen made the decision to pursue a career as a police officer. He enrolled in law enforcement school in Hibbing, and it was while he was living there that he met his future wife, Susan. They were married—by her father and her grandfather, both Lutheran ministers— before settling in Onamia, where he served for three years before being hired by Jerry Moe and returning to his beloved hometown of Glenwood. 

Reflecting on his return to Glenwood where he and Susan welcomed and raised two children, daughter Sarah, and son Phillip, Fossen says, “I was the happiest guy in the world, coming back to where I grew up.” He eventually rose through the ranks to become the chief of police, a position he held for an impressive 22 years.

In an interview for this article, Fossen attributed his success and character to the people and experiences that shaped him along the way, rather than taking credit for himself. He acknowledged the impact of familiar names within the community, the residents of Glenwood, his family and individuals he encountered while fulfilling his duties as a police officer.

“Learning to serve others, to be kind to others, help others, came from everyone I’ve met along the way. For example, Pete and Ralph Meyer who ran the shoe store, they’re both gone now, but when I was in fifth grade and wanted to play basketball, I couldn’t afford tennis shoes, so I asked if I could charge a pair. They could have given me any pair of junk tennis shoes, but they gave me Converse All-Stars, which at the time were the best shoes there were. I told them as soon as it snows, I can start shoveling sidewalks so I can pay you—my brother Larry and I used to shovel sidewalks for a dollar, and driveways for a dollar—I don’t think I ever fully paid off a pair of shoes. After a while they would just say, ‘That’s enough’. These guys probably did that for a lot of kids like me. That’s the kind of thing that shapes a person’s outlook.”

Upon returning to Glenwood after leaving the Army, Fossen recalls running into Richard Gandrud who inquired about his plans. When told Fossen told him he would be working for the railroad, Gandrud offered him a $300 loan to get established and said he could start paying it back after getting a couple of paychecks.

“You remember these things, the kindnesses, and you want to give that back, Fossen says. If you don’t listen, and you don’t look, you don’t see it, but that kind of kindness still happens; it’s all around us. I know [Larry] Zavadil—we played basketball and graduated together in 1967‚ [Steve] Klick, and [Rick] Ekstrand, those guys quietly do so much for this town. Stuff no one sees, but it makes a difference. There are many people out there doing what they can to make things a bit better for someone else.”

Fossen names his father-in-law as another source of inspiration, giving him credit for playing a significant role in shaping his understanding of helping others, particularly those struggling with chemical dependency. This knowledge proved invaluable during Fossen’s career, informing his response to situations, and leading him to assist many people in getting help with addiction.

Sarah says, “If you share a Diet Coke with The Chief, he is sure to tell you a story. It might be about lunch with Al Gore, a tornado watch with Carl Eller, going to the mats (demonstrating some holds) with Verne Gagne, a host of rodeo champions, or breakfast with Jesse Jackson. But no matter where he is or who he is with, he will tell them about Glenwood.”

His enduring love for his hometown is evident to all who know him. It drives his tireless advocacy for the town. During his many travels he never fails to speak highly of its wonderful people, past and present, whether on the east coast, the west coast, or the heartland of Montana.

When speaking with him, two things that glimmer in every anecdote, every observation, and even in discussing his accomplishments, are gratitude and wonder. “What comes around goes around,” he says. “I’m just trying to give back what I feel was given to me. I have been so lucky to live in a town like this, with so many wonderful people. What a life.” 

Note: Portions of this article include notes and insights from Fossen’s daughter, Sarah, providing a glimpse into the incredible impact her father has had on the community.