In one of Elizabeth Heimdal’s favorite pictures, she’s 3 years old, wearing a pink dress, white tights, white shoes and a big pink bow.
She’s also sporting shooting glasses, earmuffs and a .22-caliber rifle.
“Dad is right behind me, ready to help if he needs to at all,” Elizabeth said of her father, Dwight Stearns.
“He would always tell me, 'When you’re ready to start shooting, just let me know and we’ll go shoot,’” Elizabeth added with a chuckle. “I said, ‘Dad, I’m three so I can shoot now.’”
That scene — her dad a steady hand, always ready help someone learn the finer points of shooting — perfectly encapsulates the passions Dwight held dear: family, friends and firearms.
After a nearly four-decade career in law enforcement, Dwight’s watch ended on Dec. 17 when he died from complications of COVID-19 at a Des Moines hospital. He was 64.
Born on a century farm in Lucas, Dwight graduated from Chariton High School in 1974. He joined the Army, staying three years, including one in Japan, before returning to Iowa.
He was hired by the Earlham Police Department in 1980 and served for 31 years, retiring as the chief in 2011. But Dwight just couldn’t sit still. In retirement, he joined the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office as a transport officer, responsible for driving prisoners to and from court.
Dwight hunted when he was younger, Elizabeth said, but didn’t discover his deep love of shooting until he was in the military. Widely recognized as an expert teacher and mentor, he was a member of the NRA, CIPS Shooting Club and served as a firearms instructor for the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.
“Being beaten by a former student was a source of great pride,” his family wrote in his obituary.
If the sheriff’s office ever had an officer who needed a little extra training or some one-on-one coaching, they could always turn to Dwight, Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard said.
“Dwight had such a passion for firearms and the shooting industry,” Chad said. “I don’t know the tricks of the trade like he does, but he was able to get anybody passed through a qualification after he teaches them.”
In addition to being a great teacher and police officer, Dwight was just a positive guy, always willing to lend a hand, said Tom Peterson, Dallas County’s jail administrator.
“That man could go to any jail in the state and they knew who he was,” Tom said. “Polk County — as big as Polk County is — if I go over there for a transport, they’d say, ‘Where’s the big guy? Where’s Dwight?’ Or Story County. Or any of them."
Iowa Mourns: Around the state
When Barbara Jean Sherman first met Jerome George Sherman, a military man with orders to post in Fairbanks, Alaska, she knew there was a spark. But she couldn’t have known how their love would bloom across 3,000 miles of land and sea — especially back in the 1950s.
Nobody made peanut butter frosting like Barbara McGrane-Brennan. At least, that's what her daughter, Tonya Brennan, says.
Bryce Wilson always had rhythm in his heart.
Jackie Lake left her Oklahoma home on a quintessential autumn day in October 1987, heading northeast to Iowa to meet this new friend her brother kept raving about.
The turtle figurine on Abbie Eichman's work desk always faced north.
Deb Miller first started talking to Jim Miller Jr. from the backseat of his taxi cab.
Mel Stahmer’s favorite bar trick almost never failed.
In Iowa City’s Hickory Trail neighborhood, it was common knowledge that Ed McCliment took a morning stroll to a nearby convenience store and returned with a cup of coffee in one hand and a fresh copy of the New York Times in the other. On the way back, his eyes would be transfixed on the newsprint as he walked — no need to watch his feet along the well-trod route that always carried him home.
Patrick C. Parks and aviation were a match made in the heavens.
Walt Bussey kept his Aunt Katie Jacobs' leather work boots when she moved into a nursing home eight years ago, hoping she would one day return to the family farm to wear them again.
Mary “Kitty” Rolfes loved to gab, usually about her family.
Norma Jean Perry loved being a grandmother so much that she didn’t stop with her own eight grandchildren.
Stan Patrick bled Cub blue.
For someone who loved practical jokes as much as Edith Elida Anderson, April 1 took strategy.
If there was ever a cause for celebration — from St. Patrick’s Day to birthdays to retirements — Jim Orvis had a greeting card for it.
David Worthington never backed down from a fight.
You’ve heard stories about people walking to school through wind and rain, frigid cold and blinding snow.
Wiuca Iddi Wiuca spent most of his life in limbo, searching for a place to call home.
Lola Nelson's green thumb earned her a reputation in the small town of Ollie.
After growing up an only child, Marilyn Elizabeth Prouty knew she wanted a big family — a dozen children, to be specific.
When Amy Gardner was younger, she was, admittedly, a troublemaker. Her transgressions were generally kids’ stuff, like taking her parents' car for a joyride or talking back to a teacher.
You’ll have to excuse Janet Baxa’s laughs when she talks about meeting her husband, Kenneth "Ken" Baxa.
Therese J. Harney spent hours and hours in bowling alleys trying out grips, practicing approaches and watching her ball ramble down the lane and smash into the pins — hoping, of course, she would knock them all down.
With a swing set, a sandbox, a tetherball court and a little red playhouse built to look like a train engine, Lucille Dixon Herndon ensured her family’s yard was a childhood dream made real.
Regina Thiry was an expert quilter.
Jose Gabriel Martinez handed his oldest son a map.
Carroll White deserved a better 100th birthday celebration.
Don Lole cultivated such strong, deep roots in the small, rural town of Villachuato, Mexico, that he became a living landmark.