TWIN FALLS — Wesley Dobbs, a nearly lifelong Twin Falls resident known as a police officer, longtime member of the U.S. Armed Forces, founder of the College of Southern Idaho’s law enforcement program and for creating a local judo program, has died.
The 90-year-old died Oct. 21. A memorial service was Saturday at CSI’s Fine Arts Auditorium in Twin Falls.
When Wiley Dobbs posted on Facebook about his father’s death, 260 people left comments and shared memories just in the first day.
“It was clear he made an impact,” he said.
Wiley — who retired in September after more than 13 years as Twin Falls School District superintendent — describes his father as the “ultimate optimist” who could take the most challenging situation and see it in a positive light.
Dobbs’ motto was: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” and he instilled that in others, said son Gregory Dobbs, who lives in Prescott, Ariz.
The three sons gathered Thursday at a Twin Falls coffee shop and remembered their father as being polite when a situation called for diplomacy. But as a police officer, he could down a bad guy.
Gregory said his father extended a legacy of the importance of family. He and his brothers are best friends.
Brian Dobbs, who teaches sociology and is director of the honors program at CSI, said his father couldn’t have done a lot of the things he did without wife, Janet, who “made the house go” while also working full time at First Federal Savings Bank.
“It was a blessing to be around him and the family,” he said.
Dobbs’ impact, he said, is hard to measure. “He was almost untouchable. He was so highly revered and educated.”
Matsuoka said his parents didn’t go to college, and he was the first in his family to earn a college degree. Dobbs, he said, was influential in helping him navigate that process.
Matsuoka said Dobbs influenced who he is and what he tries to do — setting the bar high in his work and giving back to the community.
Dobbs had impeccable standards of honor and was empathetic to what people were going through, Matsuoka said.
He was also an incredible dancer, Brian said. His parents even took a ballroom dance class with him at CSI when he was 19 and his friends didn’t want to sign up.
During the last decade of his life, Dobbs and Janet spent winter months in Casa Grande, Ariz., golfing and spending time with friends. Dobbs was a substitute teacher well into his 80s.
He had a special relationship with his five grandchildren, Wiley said, and came to their activities and games. And he took his only granddaughter dress shopping at garage sales.
Brian said he wouldn’t have anticipated his father would do so well with a granddaughter. But when he brought home dresses, “he had the best taste,” he said. “Anything he bought, she would wear.”
Dobbs grew up during the Great Depression. His parents divorced, and he was close with his hard-working mother, but it was a struggle to make a living.
He was placed in an orphanage for a while before moving to San Francisco with his mother and stepfather. He graduated from high school in 1945 and wanted to follow in his stepfather’s footsteps into law enforcement.
While in San Jose, he earned a bachelor’s degree in police science.
In Twin Falls, he rose up the ranks to become assistant chief of police. And before his death, he was the last living Twin Falls police officer from the 1940s.
Dobbs believed strongly in community policing — a concept that’s now coming back into the spotlight nationally, Brian said. His father would “walk a beat” on the streets, saying hello to shopkeepers and neighbors.
“That bode well for him personally, too,” Wiley said.
When Dobbs was walking on Main Street one day, he met Janet, who was working at Roper’s clothing store.
They got married in 1957 and celebrated their 60th anniversary Sept. 27. The couple raised three sons and have five grandchildren.
As a police officer, the neighborhood children knew Dobbs and would stop by or call when they needed something.
When the boys were in school, it was a source of pride that people knew their father, Gregory said. As a child, he had the mentality that “my dad is tougher than yours.”
Wiley recalls being dropped off at kindergarten in his father’s police car and as a result, his classmates thought they were the richest family in Twin Falls.
If the boys were driving somewhere, their father would mention former students he knew in different towns who were a police officer or police chief. If they needed anything, they knew who to call.
“He knew where all his guys were — and ladies too,” Brian said.
Wiley said his father was a champion for women in CSI’s law enforcement program and judo at a time when that wasn’t common. “He was on the cutting edge with that.”
Jim Munn, director of public safety at CSI, started as a Twin Falls police officer in 1980. At that time, Dobbs was leading the law enforcement program at the college.
“He had a huge impact on me as a police officer and just as a man growing up,” he said.
Munn said he spoke with Dobbs numerous times. He described him as very accessible and wise, a leader in law enforcement, and someone with a lot of emotional intelligence who understood and could read people well.
Also, “he had a realistic view of policing and how police impact the community as social agents — more than just law enforcers,” Munn said. “We were stakeholders in trying to make communities better.”
But in the 1980s, that wasn’t a popular philosophy, Munn said. Instead, he added, the focus was on a rapid response to calls and locking up criminals.
Dobbs pushed for police officers to be well educated and trained, Munn said. “That was kind of heady stuff for that time.”
‘He was so proud to work for CSI’
CSI President “Doc” Taylor hired Dobbs in 1965 by as one of the college’s first faculty members the year the college opened.
Dobbs created a law enforcement program and its curriculum — the first police training program in Idaho. At the time, there wasn’t any formal training or certification for police officers.
“He was a forward-thinking man,” Munn said.
Brian remembers sitting in on his father’s law enforcement class at CSI, waiting for him so they could have lunch together. He had just moved back to Twin Falls from Boise State University.
After a couple of weeks, he asked his father what he’d think if he signed up for his class. Dobbs replied: You’d better ask your mother.
Brian ended up enrolling. He cleaned up his appearance, ditching the tattered jeans and long hair for more professional attire.
As a student in his father’s class, “that’s really when I got to know my dad the best,” he said.
Todd Schwarz, executive vice president at CSI, said Dobbs was a mentor for him when he was new faculty member at the college.
“He always took the time to check on me and offer advice, and in a very gentle, professional manner,” Schwarz wrote in an email to the Times-News. “He was so proud to work for CSI.”
Schwarz recalls Dobbs introducing himself at a statewide vocational faculty meeting as: “I’m Wes Dobbs and I teach law enforcement for the best college in the state of Idaho.”
He retired in 1997.
Decades in the U.S. Armed Forces
As he neared high school graduation, Dobbs had friends who had already enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces and were deployed, Brian said, and he was so excited to join.
After enlisting in the U.S. Army, he was stationed in Japan.
Brian said his father discovered good people there and fell in love with the culture. He also loved the respect shown for the elderly, Wiley said.
In 1950, Dobbs was commissioned in U.S. Army Reserve and served active duty during the Korean War. He also commanded a military police unit that protected President Dwight Eisenhower during his inauguration ceremony in 1953 in Washington, D.C.
After his honorable discharge, he remained in the USAR and Idaho Army National Guard.
Brian recalls his father was serving with the National Guard in 1974 when Evel Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon.
As Dobbs headed out that day, he strapped on a gun. Brian said he was worried about his father’s safety.
As Dobbs neared the end of his time in service, he knew he’d come up for the rank of lieutenant colonel. But he was listed as ineligible and after looking into it, he discovered there was a paperwork error, Brian said.
Dobbs called Frank Church, a U.S. Senator from Idaho, who went to bat for him and made sure the error was corrected. Dobbs retired in 1981 with more than 31 years of service.
Even though Dobbs wasn’t technically a recruiter, “he enlisted about every friend he had into the armed forces,” Brian said, and many thanked him later.
While he was serving in the Army in Japan, Dobbs became fascinated by judo. As a San Jose State College student, he was a member of a judo team that won the California championship.
In 1955, he and close friend Guy Matsuoka started a judo program in Twin Falls. Members of the Twin Falls-CSI Judo Club competed around the nation.
The Dobbs boys once noticed their father’s photo on a wall during a judo tournament. They didn’t know he was a national champion.
Gregory said his father was very humble. He didn’t live vicariously through his children either, Wiley said, and was patient with them as they were learning judo.
Wiley started judo as a 7-year-old and didn’t start winning until he was 15. He remembers getting “creamed” at one judo tournament and his father commented: “That was one of the most beautiful falls I’ve ever seen.”
Wiley said he stuck with judo after that, thanks to his father’s encouragement. He ended up vying for a spot in 1980 on the United States’ Olympic judo team.
When the boys competed nationally, his father told them, “go and learn,” Gregory said.
For judo tournaments, the Dobbs family piled into their station wagon with other judo families — including the Matsuoka family — to hit the road.
“In that day, we had several sets of parents who would watch over us,” Matsuoka said. “There was no hesitation in putting us in line if we were out of line.”
Brian said: “I remember judo vehicles as a place where you laughed a lot.”
Once in a while, the children would get a little too rambunctious. A parent would turn on country music by Roy Acuff and within four seconds, the children were groaning and the energy level would die down, Brian said.
If the children behaved, they might be lucky enough to get to listen to the greatest hits of 1972.
For Matsuoka, a lot of Dobbs’ teachings in judo weren’t spoken and had to do with the efficiences of the sport, he said.
Matsuoka now oversees CSI’s judo program, which includes four sessions: two for college credit and two for community education.
Matsuoka said Dobbs was his “go-to guy” for years if questions arose on a variety of topics. He saw his mentor as being larger than life.
“I never did see him walk on water,” he said, “but I would never doubt it.”