In November and December of 2019, Wright County
Sheriff Sean Deringer ran a contest in his office – the Beard Challenge. It
allowed deputies and sheriff’s office staff to grow beards, which they are
forbidden to do ordinarily. The plan was to make it a fundraising event for
Rivers of Hope, a non-profit organization based in Monticello that helps victims
and families that have been impacted by family and domestic violence through its
adult services, youth services and crisis/outreach services.
At a breakfast held at the Wright County Law
Enforcement Center Tuesday, Jan. 14, Deringer presented Rivers of Hope with a
check for $14,805 – all the money raised through the Beard Challenge.
Deringer was impressed with the turnout, that included
numerous county employees and several invited guests from outside county government.
“The breakfast we had Tuesday was extremely well
attended,” Deringer said. “We had four state representatives, two senators, three
congresspeople represented by staffers, several principals and superintendents
and a pretty good batch of business people. We were extremely well represented
and, when I announced that number, there was a gasp that went through the
entire crowd. It was pretty awesome.”
Being able to donate such a significant amount was
gratifying for Deringer, who had come up with the idea a couple of years earlier,
but hadn’t been able to implement it until last fall.
In 2017, Deringer approached then-Wright County Sheriff
Joe Hagerty with his idea for the Beard Challenge, but Hagerty shot the idea
down, citing that he didn’t think it was professional for officers to have
beards and that the sheriff’s office has never allowed officers to wear beards.
But, Deringer was undeterred.
He felt it would create camaraderie in the office
among the employees and would be used as a fundraiser to give the proceeds to a
worthy cause. He vowed to himself that, if he ever became sheriff, he would institute
the Beard Challenge.
For employees who had been forbidden from growing beards,
it became a daily competition to see the progress of hair growth, especially
for those who have been around a while (including Deringer) and couldn’t
remember the last time they had the chance to grow out a full beard.
“One of our patrol captains, Dan Anselment, has been
with our office for almost 35 years and he’s never grown a beard for anything
more than a week when he would go deer hunting,” Deringer said. “It was fun for
some of the young guys, but I think us older guys had as much fun as anyone
Deringer turned the Beard Challenge into a competition
to raise as much money as possible for Rivers of Hope. Initially, he was going
to charge those taking part in the Beard Challenge $100 each, but changed the
plan to have each participant secure donations to represent them. To incentivize
to contest, he got a donation to provide gift cards for the best beard, the
worst beard and the top four earners. The top individual raised $565.
There is talk of making the Beard Challenge an annual
event because not only did it serve as a fundraiser that brought in more money
than anyone imagined it could, but the ripple effect in the sheriff’s office
has been everything Deringer had hoped for and more.
“It really created a lot of energy in our office,”
Deringer said. “I’ve often said my job is to create an environment that gets
people excited about coming to work. I think they’re starting to see that
vision come through. There’s a lot of positive energy in my office right now.”