‘Wobber’ Takes a ‘Sabbatical’
by Thomas Wirth
May 19, 2011 | 2493 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TA-TA FOR NOW – John Wontrobski flanked by his wife Suzanne and daughter Sarah after his going away gathering at Rebecka Hall on Monday (Photo By Brett Schreckengost)
TA-TA FOR NOW – John Wontrobski flanked by his wife Suzanne and daughter Sarah after his going away gathering at Rebecka Hall on Monday (Photo By Brett Schreckengost)
On Monday, his last day on the job after 18 years working in the Telluride Marshal’s Department, John Wontrobski says it has been “fulfilling.” Wontrobski, widely known as Wobber, has served as a code enforcement officer, patrol deputy, and, most recently, as the department’s detective/investigator.

Wobber is surprised at how quickly news of his departure has spread through town. He is quick to reassure friends and acquaintances that he’s not going anywhere, and that it is incorrect to call his action a retirement.

“It’s more a sabbatical,” he says. The only problem with that characterization, he points out, is that it implies a return. While he may, in fact, return to law enforcement in the future, he says his time with the Telluride Marshal’s Department is over.

The main reasons for his departure are “burnout and stress.”

Wontrobski speaks of the job as very much “front-line” law enforcement. He says the stress comes from constantly policing among people he knows personally, and having them know him, too.

“Everything you do has that background of being a cop,” he says, as he noticed conversations grow hushed or stop altogether when he would enter a room, whether he was in uniform or not.

“It didn’t bother me for a long time,” he says with a grim smile, “but after 18 years it has a cumulative effect. I call it 18 years of conflict – other people’s conflict. And that wears on you.” Luckily for Wontrobski, he says the job fit with his personality and he enjoyed the support of his family.

He also points to the lack of opportunity for advancement as a reason for him to leave now. Because Telluride’s is a relatively small department, movement up the chain of command can be slow, usually depending on turnover. After passing up an opportunity to advance to sergeant after he was newly made investigator, partly because of his interest in that work and partly because he thought the position might benefit a fellow officer, Wontrobski assumed he would remain in line for the next opening. Such was not the case, and now he sees his opportunity for advancement too far in the future for him to continue in his current position.

He enjoyed the position of investigator, but with a shortage of personnel, that position often is called on for other duties as well.

“Being the detective in a small town, I can’t thing of a more interesting and varied job,” he says. “I’d get called to some of the most interesting happenings, events or scenes in town on a regular basis. But for every interesting scene, I had to take a bike theft report.”

One of the best aspects of the department for Wontrobski was the freedom he was given to define his job. He says he enjoyed connecting with many different organizations, from the San Miguel Resource Center to Social Services to the schools. He recalls fondly discussing Fourth Amendment rights in high school history classes while they were studying the U.S. Constitution. “It was great being able to show them the concrete applications [of The Constitution], since I deal with those laws every day.”

While Wobber says he could make small criticisms, as he points out anyone could after 18 years in one job, he looks back proudly on his time served. He agrees with many of his fellow officers who look at the job as a public service.

“A noble pursuit,” he calls it.

While most of his friends growing up chose a career and moved somewhere as a result of their job, Wontrobski is happy that he, like many in the Telluride area, chose a place to live and found a career that would allow him to stay. Like many people in town, Wontobski came to Telluride with the intention of spending a year as a ski bum after graduating from Colgate University in 1989.

After meeting and marrying his wife, Suzanne Cheavens, practical considerations made him reconsider his career path of becoming a chef. Although he had finished eight months at the Culinary Institute of America and a five-month internship at the Doral Resort in the Mountain Village, “I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a food service career with a family,” he recalls. That led him to answer an ad in the local paper for a Code Enforcement Officer, because he “thought it might be interesting.”

Until his mother reminded him years later, he had forgotten that a career placement test in high school had suggested he be a police officer or social worker. He remembers completely disregarding it at the time, along with his family.

“My mother dug this report out of the closet 15 years later and sent it to me with a note saying, I guess these things don’t lie.”

When asked about the changes the town has undergone since he joined the force, Wontrobski said he sees just normal growing pains.

“Really, it seems normal that as we have more people, we have more crime,” he says, not finding any distinct trend in perpetrators or types of crime. One of the most interesting aspects of the investigator position, he says, was being involved on a regional level and interacting with other departments to look at trends.

One of the most difficult things as an investigator, he says, was the inability to pursue every crime to successful prosecution.

“It’s difficult to talk to a victim, when you both pretty much know what happened, but you can’t move it forward.”

On the flip side, one of the better aspects of the job was working with the citizenry of Telluride. He was always impressed that people were respectful of his privacy, and that of his wife and family.

Wobber’s short term plans are to rest, “physically and emotionally.” With the support of his wife and kids, he is looking forward to a summer of enjoying Telluride’s festivals and perhaps taking a stab at hiking the Colorado Trail.

“The best way to describe it,” he says, “ is a recharging of the batteries.”

After that, he is open to starting anew, either with another department in the region or with a career change.
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