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Funeral for a friend: Hundreds celebrate Sheriff McLean Saturday

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Rev. Glenn Schwanke, Sheriff Brian McLean’s pastor, delivers a sermon at a celebration of McLean’s life at the Rozsa Center Saturday.

HOUGHTON — Hundreds of family, community members and officers from across the state celebrated Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean’s life at the Rozsa Center Saturday.

McLean, the longest-serving active sheriff in the state and the longest-serving sheriff in Houghton County history, died Monday at UP Health System – Marquette from injuries sustained in an accident at home two days earlier.

The event was labeled a “victory celebration” to mark McLean’s passage into the afterlife, said Rev. Glenn Schwanke, McLean’s pastor at the Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houghton.

“The Brian McLean that I’m going to remember would visit with me at my office at Peace from time to time,” he said. “Then we’d chew the fat, we’d talk about different things. And when that happened, more than often, the tone would be light, and Brian would share his down-home, old-fashioned observations of everyday life.”

In his sermon, he recalled decades of sitting with McLean through belly laughs and bitter tears. In one incident, McLean playfully convinced Schwanke’s daughter her teacher was in the Witness Protection Program. He rattled off the serial number on her teacher’s glass eye; all she had to do was convince her teacher to show her, and she’d know he was telling the truth.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette After a line of police vehicles accompany Sheriff Brian McLean’s remains to the Rozsa Center Saturday, Interim Houghton County Sheriff Kevin Coppo receives the urn before visitation.

“My daughter’s going to be 30 this fall,” Schwanke said. “She still remembers that as if it happened yesterday.”

But McLean was also there in more serious moments; when Schwanke’s wife died, McLean was at the parsonage quickly with some of his renowned home-baked bread. And Schwanke counseled McLean when life got heavy, sharing advice or a Bible passage, but mostly listening.

McLean donated his organs at UP Health System — Marquette. McLean’s son Samuel read a statement prepared for the organ recipients to let them know who he was as a person.

There was an endless supply, and endless repetition, of dad jokes.

“You’d realize he was just one of those guys, a simple man who had a great sense of humor that you couldn’t help but love,” Samuel said.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton County officers salute Sheriff Brian McLean during Saturday’s ceremony at the Rozsa Center. More than 140 officers paid tribute to McLean.

And he had plenty of catchphrases: “Team One,” his crew of family or friends. “Rock on,” said in response to good news. “That’s a good deal,” for bargains — especially cheap flashlights, which he would buy for the batteries.

“Today, you are his last and final Team One, the ones that will assist in his final act on this earth — his legacy. I know he would have shook every one of your hands, if he could, and give you a ‘Rock on’ for the ages. He’d be cheering for those who are receiving the gifts he is about to receive with ‘Now that’s a good deal.'”

The services, including Thursday’s process from Marquette to Hancock, were coordinated by Sheriffs & Municipal Memorial Assistance Response Team (SMMART), which offers planning and support to families of officers who are killed or die unexpectedly. Officers from close to 40 counties in Michigan participated, said Matt Slayton, director of the Michigan Sheriffs association.

“Berrien County, which is in very southwest Michigan, was here,” he said. “Sheriff McLean was a great man and respected by everyone, sheriffs and sheriff’s officers, law enforcement across the state. So this was a great tribute, and a great honor for Sheriff McLean’s family.”

After Saturday’s service, officers and family met outside for military honors, including a gun salute of three volleys. The final salute was a ceremonial radio page to McLean, repeated three times.

“We thank you for your service,” the transmission concluded. “You will be missed. God rest your soul.”

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