St. Clair Police Department patrolman Bruce Wilken says he has hundreds of grandchildren. Considering he is the St. Clair R-XIII school resource officer as well as its D.A.R.E. officer, he may not be off target by much.
The 61-year-old Wilken has served the community as a police officer since 1990 and became the SRO and D.A.R.E. officer during the middle of the previous decade. He loves his work mainly because he enjoys making a difference in the lives of young people.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had, and I love it,” Wilken said about his roles within the local police department. “I love the kids, and I try to be a positive influence.
“I’ve been doing this for a few years, and I’ve enjoyed developing the relationships with the young people. Part of my job is to show the students that I’m here and I care. I’m not the bad guy just because I’m a cop. I try to be a friendly face within the school district.”
Wilken was born in St. Louis in 1951 but his parents moved to the Lonedell area in 1964. He graduated from St. Clair High School in 1969 and attended college at what was then Southwest Missouri State University.
While attending what is now Missouri State University, he got married. After two children, Kim and Matt, were born, the couple divorced, but Wilken received custody.
“I was a single parent raising two kids on my own,” he said.
Wilken first worked for an engineering company in St. Louis before he took a job at Quality Chevrolet in Union and then at Tim’s Service Center in St. Clair.
St. Clair Police
He got bit by the public service bug as the 1980s came to a close, and Wilken attended the Missouri Police Academy through the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. He became commissioned as a reserve police officer in 1990 and moved to full-time employment with St. Clair a few years later.
“I decided I wanted to help the community where I grew up,” Wilken said about becoming a police officer. “Back then, I saw that this was not the same community where I grew up in and went to school in. I could see what the influence of marijuana and other drugs coming in was doing, and that wasn’t what I wanted to see here.
“I saw what happened to a lot of my high school friends who got hooked up in it. It ruined them.
“So, I decided I wanted to try to make a difference in this community.”
Shortly after becoming a full-time officer, the opportunity arose for Wilken to become the R-XIII school resource officer and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer, and he jumped at the opportunity.
“Chief (Bill) Hammack offered me those positions, and I thought it would be a blessing to work with the local kids,” Wilken said. “I thought I could become a positive influence in people’s lives when they’re younger.”
Wilken said he actually took over being the D.A.R.E. officer for Hammack when he became chief.
“I want these kids to do well,” Wilken said. “I see bright things in all of them. A lot of times, they just need some encouragement, and they have nowhere else to get it.”
As the district’s school resource officer, Wilken’s job is to deal with any student who may break the law. He said school-related discipline is up to the district, but if a student breaks the law in any way, he deals with the situation.
He also is the liaison between the police department and the school district and communicates with each to provide information back and forth.
As the D.A.R.E. officer, Wilken annually educates fifth-graders at Edgar Murray Elementary School through an educational program about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse as well as violence. The students go through the 10-week program and receive a diploma upon graduation.
“The D.A.R.E. program makes a big difference,” Wilken said. “It’s a good program. I have high school students come up to me and tell me going through the program when they were younger has made a difference now.”
And one of the big keys to successfully working with and helping children?
“They need someone to listen to them,” Wilken said. “A lot of times, I just let them talk. Some of these kids don’t have anyone to talk to or they’re afraid to talk to anyone else. I’ll let them talk to me about anything, let them share their opinions.
“If someone will just listen to them a little bit, it can make a big difference”
Sometimes, Wilken said, students come to him with real-life problems.
“If they need help, I try to get them help,” he said. “But the thing is, they can come to me with anything. I try to build that level of trust. I want them to trust me, and I want to be able to trust them. ... I’m here for them. I care about them. I become friends with a lot of them.”
During the summer, Wilken continues to work for the police department as a patrolman.
“I prefer dealing with the youth more than the adults,” he said with a smile.
Wilken also is involved with area youth as an archery and firearms instructor.
He was instrumental in getting the archery club started at St. Clair Junior High School through the National Archery in the Schools Program.
At SCJHS, he has assisted coach Ted Koenigsfeld throughout the four or five years the club has been in existence.
“A lot of these kids aren’t involved in other sports or activities,” Wilken said. “It gives them something fun and worthwhile to do.”
The program has become so popular at the junior high that it will be expanded to the high school this year. And Wilken will be heading the club at SCHS.
“There is a lot of continued interest in it,” he said. “This way, kids who got involved at the junior high who want to keep going in it can do so.”
Wilken is certified to be an archery instructor through the Missouri Department of Conservation.
In his spare time, Wilken also is involved in his church, St. Clair Southern Baptist, and was a charter member of the church when it was founded 30 years ago. He is active in the church choir and helps in other ways there, too.
He also helps his mother on the family farm in the Lonedell area, and he enjoys hunting and fishing and spending time with his two adult children, who still live and work in St. Clair but are not married.
He does not have any grandchildren through his children, but is the grandfather figure to the hundreds and maybe thousands of children he sees and works with during the school year and beyond.
“I want to keep doing this job as long as I’m healthy,” Wilken said. “Currently, I have no plans to retire. I’m trying to make a difference in kids’ lives, and that’s rewarding to me.
“Oftentimes, I see kids away from school and they run up to me and say, ‘It’s Officer Wilken.’ That’s pretty neat. Doing this job really makes me feel good about what I’m doing with my life.”