It’s the end of an era for Butte-Silver Bow County Law Enforcement.
Come June 26, it will be the first time in 60 years that a Skuletich has not been on the police force.
While Undersheriff George Skuletich knows he will miss the place, he’s decided, just as his father and police officer, George, did before him — it was time to close this chapter in his life.
“I’m ready to go,” said Skuletich. “It’s time to pass the torch.”
A proud Bulldog, Skuletich graduated from Butte High School in 1974 and in 1983, Montana Tech. During that time, he married Mary Anne Choquette and started a family, which would grow in size with son Brian and twin boys, Matt and Kirk.
Before working for Butte-Silver Bow, he was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades — selling men’s clothes at Hennessy’s and working at Woolworth’s. Add milkman and car salesman to his growing resume.
“All to make ends meet,” laughed Skuletich.
Forty years ago, Skuletich began his career with Butte-Silver Bow as a jailer. By 1986, he was a patrol officer and since that time, the promotions just kept coming. From sergeant to lieutenant to captain, and in between he helped manage the first DARE program in Montana and lead Butte’s first SWAT team. In January 2013, he was named undersheriff.
With a career in law enforcement, Skuletich has witnessed the highs and lows that come with the job.
One of the high points was heading up, along with Lt. Don Butler, the anti-drug campaign DARE. The two men were the first Montana officers to be trained.
The program, initiated in September 1989, targeted fifth and sixth graders in Butte, Melrose, Rocker and Divide, and later, high school students as well.
Skuletich praised the program. While not foolproof, he hoped it gave students the tools needed to stand up to peer pressure.
“If you get to at least help some kids,” said Skuletich, “then you have done your job.”
Another high point for Skuletich was in 1992, when he graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. The 11-week intensive course included investigative training, along with management and fitness training.
Skuletich is particularly proud of this accomplishment as only 1 percent of law enforcement personnel are chosen yearly for this training.
“That was an honor,” admitted Skuletich, who still remains friends with many of the other graduates.
July 4, 1992, is another day Skuletich will not forget. It was his first day as a shift commander and he and four other officers were called to the Silver Bow Homes to investigate a disturbance between a man and woman.
The investigation turned deadly when the male suspect pointed a rifle at the officers and fired one round. Officers had no choice but to return fire and the man died from his wounds.
“It was a traumatic day,” said Skuletich, “and very hard to internalize.”
According to Skuletich, at the time of the shooting there were no support services in place and an officer just went back to work. Now, there are counseling services available.
“It’s a necessity,” he said.
An event that still haunts Skuletich was the March 22, 2009, fatal plane crash that killed 14 people. Seven of the victims were children.
The Pilatus PC 12, a single engine aircraft, was attempting to land at Bert Mooney Airport when it crashed into Holy Cross Cemetery.
“It was the hardest thing I have had to deal with in my career,” said Skuletich. “If I close my eyes, I can still picture it.”
As commander at the scene, he and other officers remained at the cemetery until all the passengers’ remains had been retrieved. Nearly 12 years have passed and Skuletich makes sure every year to lay flowers at the site to honor the victims.
Skuletich has been thankful for the perks of the job — some of which was being on hand when political dignitaries come to Butte. He has helped to ensure the safety of former President Bill Clinton, future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and future President Barack Obama.
With President Obama, he took it one step further by finding the perfect spot for the future president and his family to watch Butte’s famous July 3 fireworks in 2008 and then watched the show right along with them.
“That’s a good memory,” Skuletich said with a smile.
Another source of pride for Skuletich is the fact he has been promoted by every sheriff elected during his career — Bob Butorovich elevated him to sergeant, John McPherson promoted him to lieutenant, John Walsh named him a captain, and Ed Lester chose him as undersheriff.
“I take pride in that,” he shared.
In retirement, Skuletich hopes to do a little traveling with his wife, visit the grandkids, spend time at his favorite fishing hole and play more than a bit of golf.
The undersheriff will miss his co-workers and the camaraderie they shared. He will also miss the public he served.
“Collectively, they made you want to come back to work each and every day,” he said.