Cary Rose was riding a rig when it dawned on him.
A volunteer with the River Falls Fire Department at the time, the then-20-something realized he'd been bitten by the public safety bug. There was something about helping people during their time of crisis that connected with him.
"Something just clicked back then," Rose said decades later, on the precipice of retirement. "I wanted to be in emergency services."
That desire took him from being a firefighter to the St. Croix County Sheriff's Office, where he spent his entire career in law enforcement. Rose retires Friday, March 29, after 26 years with the department.
The Hudson native first served as a jailer before becoming a patrol deputy. For the past 11 years, Rose has been a sheriff's office investigator - a role that has put him in the thick of the most harrowing and puzzling cases the department has faced.
Among those he's helped convict are River Falls triple-murderer Aaron Schaffhausen, Cristian Nunez - the man who killed a New Richmond mom and her daughter - and a Minnesota man who drove his girlfriend's corpse to St. Croix County. He also worked the case of a man who was convicted of setting fire to St. Croix Central Elementary and toiled over the unsolved murder of William "Junior" Clapp.
Rose is quick to point out that it's never one person who solves cases like those.
"It's a team effort," the 55-year-old town of Troy resident said.
Sheriff Scott Knudson praised Rose's unique approach to cases. It was Rose, he noted, who thought to bring out Clapp's iconic stagecoach for 2018's parade season in hopes of generating leads after 25 years since the man's death.
Rose also wasn't shy about sifting through trash - "it's amazing what you find," he said - or finding connections in cases, Knudson pointed out.
"He went places that the traditional officer may not think of going," the sheriff said.
Rose was eager to note that his years as a patrol deputy were equally satisfying, though for different reasons.
As a road cop, Rose learned a traffic stop is often the first point of contact many people have with law enforcement. He said that taught him the importance of making that a positive experience when appropriate.
"Not everybody needs a ticket," Rose said. "I think a warning goes a long ways."
He acknowledged that approach didn't always win him favor with his bosses, but he figured the Golden Rule treatment helped strengthen his connections with the communities he patrolled - and reminded drivers that he was watching them.
"I hope I made a difference," Rose said.
Knudson said he did. He remembered instances where Rose's personal touch with cases - sometimes tragic ones - lifted spirits.
"He just had a compassion for victims' families," Knudson said, noting Rose's particular pleasure in solving burglary cases.
St. Croix County Chief Deputy Cathy Borgschatz said Rose will be hard to replace.
"He has had many successful investigations which resulted in successful prosecutions," she said. "There were other investigations that resulted in victims being made whole with apologies, returned property, or acceptance of treatment by the offenders."
Rose also found a way to lighten heavy situations.
"He never dismissed the seriousness of the crimes he investigated, however he never took himself too seriously while investigating," Knudson said. "He kept things moving."
Rose admitted a fondness for levity.
"That's me," he said. "I like to see people smile."
He said he plans to spend more time on welding projects in retirement. He said he's also looking forward to spending more time with his wife Julie, his children, stepchildren and grandchildren. Rose said he'll also continue spending time hunting and fishing.
He said he doesn't plan to remain in the law enforcement field after retirement, but he'll never forget the experience.
"It's really a bond," he said of the relationships he's established. "It's been an absolute pleasure working for the sheriff's office."