It’s impossible to measure a man’s impact on his community, especially when he is a man like Vern Breazeale, a lifelong Laramie resident, businessman, former police chief, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Vern Hollis Breazeale died Tuesday at Ivinson Memorial Hospital. He was 83.
Laughter mingled with tears at his home Thursday.
“I think he touched so many lives,” his wife Norma Breazeale said. “If you ever heard his laugh, you’d never forget it. It came straight up from his belly.”
Breazeale was born Oct. 2, 1926, in Crawford County, Ark., to John and Flossie Breazeale. He was raised in Albany. His parents ranched in the area, raising cattle and breaking wild horses for sale. He was educated at UW’s Prep school and at the University of Wyoming.
He served during World War II in the United States Navy Marines. He never talked much about the fighting, though he served on the front lines in the South Pacific for a year, his daughter Becky Bean said.
“He talked about the agriculture and the bugs,” Bean said. “Being from Wyoming, those centipedes that were a foot long impressed the dickens out of him.”
After leaving the military in 1942, Breazeale married Norma Woolsey in 1951. He served the city of Laramie as a police officer, starting in 1950.
“When dad hired on in 1950, the requirements to be a police officer were that you had to be over six feet tall and you had to be white,” daughter Bonnie Noel said. “All they issued you was a billy club, because all the brothels near the railroad downtown were in full swing back then.”
He became Laramie chief of police in 1964.
“Law enforcement back then was not as professionalized as it is now,” Noel said. “He really brought them into the 21st century. When he was chief, he was able to establish a 40-hour work week, he was able to get them uniforms, he was able to write standard operating procedures. He contributed the curriculum to start the law enforcement program up at the University of Wyoming.”
He also worked to address juvinile delinquency and crime prevention, and was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone — from a drunk in the street who needed a ride home on a snowy night to a traveler passing through short on resources to a fellow Laramie business person.
“He’d always shake your hand and tell you he would do something, and he was your friend thereafter. And he’d always see that it was done,” Norma Breazeale said.
He retired as chief in 1970, and when Noel asked him what he thought about her bid to become a dispatcher in 1974, he said she should try the job, but she “might not like it,” Noel remembered. Later, Noel went on to become the first female patrol officer in the city and first female highway patrol offficer in the state. Her daughter Andrea Senior is a communications officer in the LPD dispatch today.
“It’s funny, when she asked me about the job, I told her she should try it, but I didn’t know if she’d like it,” Noel laughed.
Vern Breazeale went on to be a predominant entrepreneur, operating several Laramie businesses including Vern’s Self Storage and DLR Freight.
His four daughters remember their father as a pillar of strength at home, a man who did background checks on every date they had as teenagers and a man who continued to fell beetle-killed trees into his 80s.
“He didn’t think he was old,” daughter Bobbie Bobango said. “He certified in the Cayman Islands for scuba diving at 68. That same year, when he came back, we went up to the ski hill.”
“He had this love of the mountains,” Noel said. “He shared that with all of us. We got to go from the time that we were little sledding, spending time on the snow machine, motorcycle riding. I will just always think of my dad’s plaid shirt, following it all over the mountians.”
“When we were growing up he always told me, he said, never waste a day,” daughter Beth Breazeale said. “Always grow financially, physically or spiritually. Never have a wasted day.”
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the First Christian Church with a reception following at the Laramie Country Club.