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Iowa Mourns: Dwight Stearns was an expert firearms teacher and beloved mentor

Iowa Mourns: Dwight Stearns was an expert firearms teacher and beloved mentor

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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.

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Dwight Stearns, a longtime law enforcement officer, was a competitive shooter and firearms instructor for the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. 

“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.

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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.

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Dwight Stearns was a transport officer at the Dallas County Sheriff's Office. He died Dec. 17 from complications of COVID-19.

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.

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Dwight Stearns served 31 years in the Earlham Police Department before retiring as the chief of police in 2011. He then became a transport officer for the Dallas County Sheriff's Office.

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.”

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Pam Stearns, right, and her daughter, Elizabeth, left, hold a photo of Dwight Stearns, a longtime law enforcement officer who recently died of COVID-19. Members of the Dallas County Sheriff's Office pose around 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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