July 22 • 11:09 AM

Fifty years and going strong

Familiar riders of Lapeer County Mounted Posse celebrate milestone

Lapeer Posse members proudly ride through Imlay City streets during this year’s Blueberry Festival Parade. They’ll be making yet another appearance helping control traffic and crowds at the Woods-N-Water News Outdoor Weekend Sept. 7-9 at the Eastern Michigan Fairgrounds. photo by Catherine Minolli.

September 05, 2007
The word "posse" inspires fond memories of the Old West when the sheriff and a half-dozen men rode out to bring the bad guys in. Lapeer County is hardly the Old West, but that hasn't dampened the dedication of its very own Lapeer Posse.

The Lapeer County Mounted Posse Division celebrated their 50th year last weekend at the home of Al and Virginia Janiszewski in Metamora. Retired and active members along with widows and wives were present to reminisce about old times and enjoy the camaraderie of horse lovers who have weathered decades together.

Gertie Brooks from Almont, wife of the late Irvin (Red) Brooks, represented the longest surviving member of the original nine members formed under Sheriff Bill Porter back in 1947. Gertie is also widely known as the area's 'Country Cousin' columnist for the Tri-City Times.

Dr. Jules Reinhardt from Lapeer is the longest active member of the Lapeer Posse. He joined 48 years ago, back in 1959.

No longer affiliated with the Lapeer Sheriff Department, the Lapeer Posse is available to any law enforcement agency in the country. They continue to be a volunteer group that services the community without compensation, providing vital support as a law enforcement body. They disperse and control crowds, assist in search and rescue, help locate lost people, and perform a variety of community functions.

You may have seen them parading down Almont Avenue during Imlay City's Blueberry Festival. Perhaps you noticed them at Lapeer Days, the Eastern Michigan Fair or the Woods- N-Water News Outdoor Weekend directing traffic.

Along with being tremendous crowd-pleasers, horses are outstanding crowd-movers.

Posse members know that the quiet disposition of the horse's 1,200 lb. presence brings a spontaneous smile to a child or can become an intimidating menace to a rowdy group. The effect the horse has on crowds oftentimes is as rewarding to rider as it is to the recipient.

"We give more children hope," explains posse member Bruce Hull.

In the three years he has been parking cars and patrolling streets on horseback, he has watched children gain courage to walk up to his red roan Appaloosa, 'Norm,' and stroke his velvety smooth nose and neck with confidence.

"Some kids never see horses and that gets me involved in doing what I do," Hull says. "The smile on their face is my reward."

Posse President Mike Sharkey has been a member for five years and explains that though the group functions as a disciplinary unit, they have a common goal.

"Our group all has the same interest," Sharkey says. "We are community minded volunteers, who contribute our time and are horse enthusiasts."

During the summer months, the posse learns new maneuvers from Drill Captain Larry Potter, a 31-year member. These exercises are a favorite among the posse members whose occupations are as diverse as their mounts. Arabians, paints, quarter horses, Appaloosas and Palominos, all learn the intricate moves of the exercises.

"We've got a cross section of people—doctors, lawyers, and mechanics," Potter says, "and the common denominator is the horse."

The Lapeer Posse takes part in eight to 10 events a year and meets once a month at Crescent Ridge Farm.

Al Janiszewski has been in the posse for 21 years and believes that not expecting too much of the riders has encouraged good morale.

"We're active, but not so active that people get drained," Janiszewski says.

Janiszewski stresses that in order to be on the posse, first you have to have a willing horse.

"First and foremost your horse has to trust their rider and second have an even temperament," he says.

The horse must learn to trust the rider's judgment over his own instincts, Janiszewski explains, and it must learn to accept smoke bombs going off around him and walk into the smoke.

For training purposes, bales of hay are often lit to provide the same effect as a burning building; guns are fired, sirens and horns go off, firecrackers are lit and flags are waved in the horse's face.

"Just normal crowd control things," Janiszewski says.

As far as search and rescue services go, Janiszewski says the horse's instincts become a vital tool between life and death circumstances.

"The horse can sense when something is not what it should be," Janiszewski says, recalling a simulated airplane crash where police and posse compete for the best time.

"We had the advantage over the police. The pilots weren't saying a word; the horse was the one that found them," he says.

When the horse stopped, the rider looked around, Janiszewski explains. Sure enough, the pilots were hiding in the trees.

Dr. Jules Reinhardt recalled a search and rescue incident that happened at Verners Game Area. Both the police and the posse were combing the woods for a missing person.

"They (the horses) let you know when something is strange or not natural," Reinhardt says, adding that a posse member found the body and immediately notified the police.

The posse is a close-knit group that says they are more of a family unit that has materialized through the years. They continue to invite longtime members to many of their functions. They hold a Ladies Night once a year for both past and present members.

The horse a posse member rides becomes a valuable part of this family, too. Gertie Brooks still has the bridle from 'Tricks,' her late husband Red's horse, and

Eleanor Mendola, the late Sam Mendola's wife, recalls fond memories of her husband who joined the posse during the 1970s and who encouraged public recognition and expounded on the dedication of posse volunteers.

In a September 5, 1984 interview with the Tri-City Times Mendola explained that in spite of jobs and personal commitments, when the sheriff calls, almost half of the group responds because "the 24-member group is on call at all times."

"People that are not horse people can't understand us," Mendola says as she looks at the 1984 picture of her husband and smiles. "These men are so handsome in their uniforms."

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