Local law enforcement legend Bob Rupp died Saturday at age 100.
The Kennewick native, who was the oldest living retired state trooper and a former Benton County sheriff, dedicated his long life to serving the community.
Colleagues and friends remember him as a progressive, hardworking, ethical man who was all about helping his community and had no qualms about speaking his mind.
A public viewing is planned for 3 to 5 p.m. Sun., May 3 at Hillcrest Memorial Center in Kennewick. A memorial will be held 1:30 p.m. Mon., May 4 at Kennewick First United Methodist Church. A public reception will follow the memorial at the church.
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Rupp is credited for transforming the Benton County Sheriff’s Office into a professional law enforcement agency before retiring in 1987.
“Everything was built around the foundation that Bob developed for Benton County,” said former Sheriff Larry Taylor, who Rupp hired to work in the sheriff’s office in 1978.
Rupp was very clear on right and wrong. “He was a very no-nonsense person when it came to core values,” said Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg, who met Rupp as a young Kennewick patrolman.
Rupp was a great politician and very politically savvy, Hohenberg said.
“He was outspoken,” Hohenberg said. “He certainly would tell you what was on his mind, but he had a real sense of fair play. He expected people to do the right thing.”
Rupp retired from the state patrol as a lieutenant in 1974 just before his 60th birthday because that was the required retirement age, said Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste.
“He had a long distinguished career with the agency,” he said.
Rupp, a 34-year veteran of state patrol, was instrumental in the state agency’s commercial vehicle enforcement program, Batiste said. He also served in the governor’s security detail at one time.
He spent a majority of his time with the state patrol stationed in Tacoma, but also led the Kennewick detachment.
After leaving state patrol, Rupp continued to stay engaged with the law enforcement agency and went on to serve for 12 years as Benton County sheriff.
Rupp took his experience with state patrol and applied it to the sheriff’s office, Taylor said.
He started out with an agency that lacked modern equipment and had no policies and procedures, he said. Uniforms were worn out and not uniform.
Rupp created policies and procedures, with many coming directly from those used by the highly regarded state agency, Taylor said.
“He turned a ragtag outfit into a modern law enforcement agency,” Taylor said.
Taylor recalls that the year he was hired, there was incredible turnover. The staff of 50 for the sheriff’s office and the jail had a turnover of about 47 employees.
“He brought us into real professional police work,” said Paul Hart, who served with the sheriff’s office starting in 1975 and retired as undersheriff in 2010.
Rupp was strict and very ethical, Hart recalled. He was always a straight shooter.
“You knew where you stood with him,” he said.
Rupp would chew someone out when they made a mistake and deserved it, but the next day, all was forgiven, Hart said. He didn’t hold that against them.
“He demanded respect and he got it,” Hart said. But he also treated everyone else with respect.
“You couldn’t help but love the guy,” he said.
The sheriff’s office also became accredited with the state during Rupp’s tenure after he and his staff brought the department up to state standards, said Don Smith, a retired Benton County undersheriff who worked with Rupp.
Rupp made sure his staff could and did access the training needed to do their jobs, Smith said.
Rupp made sure the deputies all had portable radios. Before, Smith said they only had one or two to share.
Rupp modernized the patrol division’s fleet of cars, allowing deputies to respond faster when they were called out from home. Taylor recalls the fleet consisting of a station wagon, a van and a pickup truck when he was hired on. But that soon changed, with Rupp finding a way to get real patrol cars and eventually getting enough cars for deputies to take home their vehicles.
Rupp bought the sheriff office’s first patrol boat in 1976. Before, Smith said they had no way of controlling boat activities on the rivers. The boat helped them in search and rescue missions and patrol during Tri-Cities Water Follies.
He started the county’s SWAT team in 1978 and began Benton County’s participation in the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force, Taylor said.
Rupp even helped secure a plane that was confiscated in a drug bust and introduced the department’s first K-9 unit. Having the plane allowed them to track drug deals and search for marijuana by air, Smith said.
Rupp also instituted the reserves, and the volunteers involved tackled what tasks they could to allow the deputies to focus on critical tasks, Smith said. A reserve member also would join a deputy on patrol, providing backup that was critical when only a few deputies were on the road.
Rupp was instrumental in getting the original county justice center built during his tenure, Taylor said.
When he retired in 1987, he left the sheriff’s office in an excellent condition, said Jim Kennedy, who became sheriff after Rupp.
It was difficult to follow in Rupp’s footsteps. But Kennedy said Rupp, who had been his boss when they both served in state patrol, mentored and supported him as sheriff.
He continued to make his knowledge and experience available to those who served after him, both Kennedy and Taylor said.
And he continued to be active in the community, volunteering his time to many organizations, including the Tri-City Cancer Center, Kiwanis Club, Retired Public Employees Association and Ye Old Car Club.
He was a lifetime member and supporter of Kennewick First United Methodist Church.
“He really loved this community,” Kennedy said. “He really loved the Tri-Cities. And he showed it by volunteering for a lot of different things.”
Rupp remained an adamant supporter of state patrol, and was always willing to talk about safety on the roadways and participate in public service announcements, Batiste said.
And he was an inspiration to the younger patrol members, Batiste said. Rupp also showed so much pride in the agency.
Rupp was in the first car to legally drive across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge when it opened in 1950 and was again among the first to cross when it reopened in 2007. He joined Batiste and then Gov. Chris Gregoire to dedicate the new bridge.
Batiste met Rupp, whom he describes as quite the character, about 11 years ago. Rupp called to personally congratulate Batiste after he became the state agency’s new chief.
Batiste said he quickly came to admire Rupp, who was always upbeat and positive and had such tremendous integrity and character. He was a joy to have conversations with and up-to-date on past and current law enforcement issues.
“Bob was still very current and relevant in his knowledge about the world,” he said.
And from Rupp, Batiste said he always knew he would get an honest opinion.
Family was always important to Rupp, Batiste said.
He is survived by his children, Christine Green, Bill Rupp and Bobbi Lochansky. His son, Roger, died in 2010 and his wife, Alice, passed away in 2007.
It is remarkable how much Rupp accomplished for the citizens of the county and the state with his vision and energy, Taylor said.
“He is going to be dearly missed, but he will never be forgotten,” he said.