Trooper calls it a career

Posted: Friday, May 02, 2008

Bringing an end to what was the only father-daughter act in the Alaska State Troopers, Soldotna based Sgt. Dan Donaldson retired Wednesday after 21 years as a trooper.

Donaldson's daughter, Michelyn "Mikie" Grigg, is an investigator with the trooper's Alaska Bureau of Investigation detachment based in Palmer.

A familiar face on the Kenai Peninsula, particularly between Soldotna and Nikiski, Sgt. Donaldson served two assignments in the troopers' E Detachment, headquartered on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna, for a total of eight years.

He began his career at almost 40 years old, leaving a successful construction business to enter law enforcement. Donaldson first became a state trooper in 1986, but was laid off one year later due to budget cuts.

He signed on as a police officer with the North Slope Borough, and rejoined AST in 1988. He alternated between Bethel and Soldotna, being assigned to E Detachment from 1997 to 2000 and again from late 2003 until his retirement.

A couple years after rejoining the troopers, Donaldson was heading to a women's shelter in Bethel to conduct an investigation when he saw smoke coming out of the building. The shelter was on fire.

When he entered the building and assisted evacuating people from it, some of the women directed him to a room where an infant boy had been. Donaldson made his way in, found the boy and carried him to safety.

Selected as Alaska's Top Cop for the rescue that year, Donaldson was flown to Washington, D.C. to meet the president, along with select law enforcement representatives from each of the 50 states.

"I got to shake President (Bill) Clinton's hand and he gave each of us a small award," Donaldson said. "That was the first time I ever met a president in person. It was pretty impressive."

A decorated U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Donaldson earned the bronze star and a purple heart while serving in Vietnam.

Last year, when he was in Bethel officiating a basketball tournament, a woman recognized Donaldson as the trooper who saved her infant son.

"She introduced me to the boy ... he's an adult now," Donaldson said. "He must be 18 or 19. That was pretty neat."

When asked if he had an especially memorable assignment as an Alaska trooper, Donaldson said, "Actually, the best job I ever had with the troopers was when I was flying as the outpost supervisor."

He oversaw operations in rural villages including Aniak, St. Mary's and McGrath.

"I'd be out there flying and couldn't believe I was getting paid for this too," he said.

A survivor of a commuter plane crash while on board as a passenger, Donaldson also survived a crash when he was piloting and put his aircraft down in the Yukon River. On duty at the time, he chose to quit flying after that.

Donaldson, who lives in Soldotna with his wife, Jean, said he really doesn't have any plans for retirement.

"I don't hunt, don't fish, but there are some projects I've put off ... paint the house, re-roof the house," he said.

Besides Investigator Grigg, the couple has four other daughters: Amy Donaldson, 40, a reporter with the Deseret News in Salt Lake City; Loralee Corbett, 32, an emergency dispatcher in Salt Lake City; Ernestine "Ernie" Donaldson, 28, who works in a Salt Lake City health club; and Danielle "Dani" Donaldson, 18, who plans to attend the University of Utah next semester. They also have one son, Fred, 36, who is an assistant principal in Texas and is planning to go to law school.

Sgt. Donaldson and his wife plan to remain in Soldotna.

"I'm excited ... happy, but it's certainly going to be different," he said of retirement.

E Detachment Deputy Commander Dane Gilmore said Donaldson "was known to be one of the most passionate and thorough investigators. We definitely will miss him."

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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