Andy Ypma served as a probation officer in McLeod County for so long he says he started in the B.C. era.
“That’s before computers and before cell phones,” he said Monday morning, the start of his first full week of retirement.
After 45 years on the job, Ypma’s last day concluded July 9 with a farewell reception in the basement of the McLeod County Courthouse. The room was packed with law enforcement, domestic violence advocates, foster parents, guardians, former clients, school staff, therapists, and more.
“I was saying goodbye to so many people,” Ypma said. “When I came here I knew no one. Now I leave here rich with relationships. I’ve met awesome people.”
When his career started on March 15, 1974, probation officers were county employees. Thus he was appointed by Judge L.W. Yost.
“He was my mentor until he passed away,” Ypma said. “He taught me what it was like to be a probation officer and what was expected.”
Since then, he’s had thousands of clients in McLeod County who have been charged as juveniles, charged with misdemeanors or with gross misdemeanors. But he hasn’t worked alone. In addition to his fellow probation officers, people across the county have helped Ypma’s clients get back on the right track.
“I want to express appreciation to all those in the community who partnered with me,” Ypma said, “for those on probation to successfully complete their probationary period.”
Work across the county began early when the concept of group homes took off and Ypma was part of early development as a supervisor. Those first programs grew into the McLeod Treatment Program, which serves young people. His chemical awareness class in the mid 1980s lasted several years. And in the late 1980s, Ypma partnered with a group in Cokato developing the Village Ranch, which promotes positive change among youth and families.
Ypma also worked closely with the McLeod Alliance for Victims of Domestic Violence, which launched in the early 1990s. In 2015 he was recognized for his efforts with the Minnesota Coalition of Battered Women’s Community Ally Inspire Award.
“Andy has always been a supporter of McLeod Alliance and a seeker of knowledge in the area of domestic violence advocacy. He has consistently sought our assistance with victims that he has come into contact with through his position in probation,” read the nomination from McLeod Alliance. “It is rare that a systems professional so completely understands the role of a domestic violence advocate.”
CHANGE OVER THE YEARS
Since 1974, Ypma has seen numerous changes to programming and law enforcement in McLeod County. Local programs and state and federal laws have changed what is counted as a crime, and developing attitudes and technology have brought forth change as well.
“When I initially started, (driving while impaired) records dropped off your record after five years,” Ypma said. “Then the intoxilyzer (alcohol breath test) came into being and they brought back all the past records, so it’s now on peoples’ records.”
In the 1980s, laws regarding criminal sexual conduct were revisited, which led to further education to help employees such as probation officers better identify criminal situations. Mandatory reporting of sexual abuse toward minors followed. When domestic violence began to be taken more seriously in the late 1980s, laws changed to reflect the developing attitude, which led to more training for Ypma.
“In the ‘80s they rolled out in the Department of Corrections the concept of restorative justice,” Ypma said. “That is a concept where the offender or person who committed criminal acts can restore themselves by doing community service work, restitution, victim/offender mediation/reconciliation, and become part of the community again.”
Sentenced to service programs grew out of that time period.
“Around the ‘90s, methamphetamines started to become more prevalent here,” Ypma said. “We had a little bit of gang issues going on. We partnered with law enforcement and social services to deal with the gang piece.”
In the 2000s, the growing prevalence of the internet in daily lives led to new laws or avenues for people to break existing laws.
“We started looking at cyber bullying,” Ypma said. “We are now involved with driving while texting. Soon (law will prohibit) driving while on the phone, which will again enhance our case load.”
“We developed in the early 2000s the Community Work Service program for juveniles so they can do community serve work in their community, such as at the fairgrounds,” Ypma said.
Programs today help juvenile offenders earn money to pay restitution.
“When I first started as a juvenile agent in 1974 we didn’t have the resources we have today,” Ypma said. “We worked with schools to make sure young people went to school and so on. We didn’t have group homes. We were everything to these young people.”
Looking at the county as a whole today, Ypma said the driving force behind illegal acts is the abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs. The substances lead to driving while impaired charges and drug charges, but it doesn’t stop there.
“Abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs causes people to make poor decisions,” Ypma said. “Those poor decisions involve criminal activity and drive a lot of our system. ... The abuse (of drugs and alcohol) has increased the amount of people entering our jail system, our court system, which increases the amount of people on case loads.”
A PLACE OF OPPORTUNITY
Though Ypma has worked with thousands of people who have gotten into trouble with the law, he sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
“Usually when people do something illegal, most desire — at least in my case load — to do what’s required by the court and get past it,” Ypma said.
The fabric of the communities of McLeod County help make it possible for people to get on the right track, he noted.
“They have wonderful economic job opportunities, they’ve got good educational systems,” Ypma said. “They’ve got wonderful places to worship, wonderful outside. And there are wonderful, thriving communities, not only in Hutchinson but in Glencoe and the surrounding communities. It gives people opportunities when they do make foolish decisions.”
Health services, counseling services and mentors willing to help people battling addiction all play a role in helping those on probation.
“They can build their lives back here,” Ypma said.
IT’S NOT OVER YET
Now that retirement is in full swing for Ypma, he has to figure out what it will mean for him.
“I have had an awesome career,” he said. “Much of what I did had to do with relationships, trying to inspire individuals on a case load to do the right thing, to become the man or woman they can be in the community and live within our community. I’ve had many positive relationships.”
Along the way, Ypma has worked alongside five judges, 27 McLeod County Board members, three county attorneys and four social service directors.
There have also been many business owners offering opportunities to those who need one, law enforcement officers, therapists, counselors and social workers.
“These are people I have awesome respect for,” Ypma said.
Looking ahead, he intends to work with families and kids a few days a week at the Village Ranch in Cokato. He also has plans to help out at group homes where kids are working to get their lives back on track.
“Relationships are more important than anything else,” Ypma said. “Positive relationships encourage them to be all they can be.”