A police officer has to be ready at a moment’s notice; toiling behind a desk on paperwork one minute and called to an emergency the next. The work can be physically demanding, stressful and dangerous — the perfect recipe for those up for adventure.
Embracing the unexpected is one of the many reasons why Mike Schantzen was attracted to law enforcement. He was first exposed to the field through criminal justice courses while studying business at St. Cloud State University. There, Mike had grown tired of the prospect of life in a corporate setting.
He wasn’t sure what his next move would be, but it became clear his sophomore year while mountain biking with a friend who was then a Sheriff’s Deputy (now Mike’s commander). Mike had some insight to a career in law enforcement thanks to his schooling, but he wanted to know more about the job.
His friend was happy to entertain his questioning, which only piqued his interest further. Soon, Mike had scheduled a ride-along with another deputy to experience the job firsthand, and after that, he was hooked. Mike became a Community Service Officer (CSO) in 2002, and by early 2005, he was already working as a deputy for the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.
“(Being in law enforcement is) better than sitting behind a desk every day,” Mike said. “You always get to get out and do something different.”
Part of that something different is engaging with new people on the job every day. So when co-workers first suggested that Mike go out on a date with fellow officer Melissa Wistrom he was receptive. After all, good or bad, he was always up for a new experience.
One and the Same
Melissa was also on a different path when she was first exposed to law enforcement. She was studying to be a high school social studies teacher at the University of Minnesota when some criminal justice classes pushed her in a new direction.
“I really enjoyed the sociological aspect of why groups of people do things,” Melissa said. “But I wasn’t sure what I would want to do with (a degree in criminal justice).”
A friend discovered an internship for Melissa as a crime prevention specialist, which piqued her interest, and soon Melissa was doing ride-alongs and was taking a shine to police work.
With a bachelor’s degree from the U of M in hand, Melissa enrolled in the law enforcement program at Metro State University. Just like Mike, she began as a CSO and was hired on by the City of Ramsey Police Department after she finished school.
In addition to the diverse workload, Melissa said she enjoyed the camaraderie within the department. It was common for officers to go out and talk shop after their shifts concluded. One night in fall 2008, Melissa’s conversation with her patrol partner, Brad Bluml, turned more personal. He, Melissa and a deputy, Justin Sabo, met for drinks at The Penalty Box Bar & Grill in Ramsey and were talking about relationships.
Knowing that Melissa was a family person and enjoyed staying active outdoors, Justin suggested his patrol partner Mike Schantzen would be a perfect fit for Melissa. The two worked for the same county but in different departments so they hadn’t crossed paths.
“It was the first time I had ever heard of who Mike was,” Melissa said. “(Brad) gave me an 80 percent chance that Mike and I were going to get married.”
Melissa wasn’t so optimistic about her odds. The three friends talked briefly about Mike and Melissa connecting, but then dropped it completely. Justin, however, decided to fill Mike in on the conversation when he returned to work.
The Penalty Box
Mike learned of his cohorts attempts to be matchmakers but didn’t think much about it. About three weeks later, though, he stopped in at The Penalty Box to meet up with friends and saw Melissa for the first time. She sat across the table from Mike and stood out despite being surrounded by about 10 other officers.
“I thought she was really cute,” Mike said. “I think it was her eyes and her smile, but the rest of her is pretty cute, too!”
Mike also caught Melissa’s attention.
“I noticed his very blue eyes from across the table!” Melissa said. “‘I wonder if that’s the Mike Brad and Justin were talking about?’ I thought.”
The large group wasn’t conducive for the two to get to know each other, so the next day Mike reached out to Melissa using an internal department message system. Despite some initial chitchat about work, nothing was set into motion.
It would be a few more weeks before the two would see each other again. This time, it was for Melissa’s birthday party at the end of November. And yet again, a large group of people, including college friends and co-workers, stifled Mike and Melissa from getting to know each other. Mike put an end to that the next day.
He used the internal network again to see if Melissa was on her shift. She was, and he asked her out for coffee. Their two shifts didn’t coincide, but Melissa agreed to meet him the next afternoon.
Mike and Melissa finally had a chance to meet one-on-one on a blustery November afternoon at the Dunn Brothers coffee house in Anoka. Both were on break during their shifts so they had plenty to talk about in addition to the normal, get-to-know-you small talk.
The common ground of police work helped to easily propel the conversation, and before too long, both had to get going back to their shifts.
“It was just the two of us so we were forced to have a conversation the entire time, but it never felt forced.” Melissa said.
Before the two departed, Mike asked Melissa for her phone number, which she gleefully doled out. By the next week, they had decided on an official first date.
Mike asked Melissa out to the Holidazzle Parade, a stunning display of twinkling lights and fairy-tale characters brought to life with festive floats, in downtown Minneapolis on Dec. 18, 2008. Mike had never been to the event, but was aware of the parade’s romantic qualities, Melissa had actually been in the parade as a member of the color guard in the past and was excited when Mike suggested it for their date.
After braving the wind chill, the two warmed up at Brit’s Pub nearby, where their conversation continued to effortlessly flow. The two realized they had much more in common than their day jobs, including a fondness for camping, canoeing and biking.
When the date ended, those connections helped make the 30-mile drive home pass by in a flash. Mike walked Melissa up to her door and the two shared their first kiss. Mike suggested they go on another date, but made no definite plans at the time.
The two received encouraging news, though, when they began to look at going out in the future. Both had bid on their work schedules the year before. As luck would have it, the two shared the same shifts, making it a cinch to go hiking at area parks on their off days or plan a last-minute ski trip.
“Whenever we were off it was: What are you doing? Let’s go do something,” Mike said.
They both enjoyed the exercise and fresh air of being outdoors, as well as the escape from the taxing work of law enforcement, so it seemed like the two were always active in nature. Before long, the mini excursions turned into more serious dates and meeting each other’s families.
“I wasn’t looking for anyone else,” Mike said.
The Journey Continues
In 2010, Mike and Melissa were well into their groove. Their careers were going well, and Mike was soon to accept his position as Detective for the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office. The couple had been dating for more than two years and survived the spells where their work schedules were completely opposite. Their relationship worked naturally and was better than any either had experienced in the past. It wasn’t long before Melissa was dropping not-so-subtle clues at jewelry stores for Mike (just how many times depends on who you ask).
For Christmas that year, Mike and Melissa traveled to Kauai with some friends. The journey would prove to be remarkable for more than the fact that it was their first vacation out of state together. Mike had packed an engagement ring along with his luggage.
While exploring the verdant peaks on the island’s Na Pali coast, Mike knew he had found the perfect location for the proposal. As the group descended a coastline trail and approached Ke’e Beach near sunset, Mike covertly informed their friends that he needed a moment alone. He suggested they watch the sun dip below the horizon from the shore, while he and Melissa stayed above to take in the view.
The couple had talked about getting engaged “someday,” and when Melissa found her friends venturing down to the coast while she and Mike stayed high up on the trail, she thought perhaps that day had come.
As they stared out into the Pacific, Mike walked behind Melissa and embraced her.
“Do you know what today is?” he asked.
Melissa said she was confused by the question and could only muster: “The 28th?”
Mike pulled the ring from his pocket, presented it to Melissa and said: “It’s someday. ... Will you marry me?”
With tears in their eyes, the weight of what had just happened hit them. They hugged, kissed and enjoyed their private moment. Melissa said yes.
They paused briefly to commemorate the moment with pictures before heading down to join their friends at the beach.
Mike said he never had any doubts about proposing.
“We get along so well. Everything seems to click. Everything bad I’d seen in my past relationships or with friends wasn’t there with us,” he said. “And she was so darn cute!”
Melissa was equally excited to accept Mike’s proposal.
“He always puts family first. He’s a very caring, loving person,” she said.