[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]ANTIGO — Dan Bauknecht has been in the belly of the beast. He has stared the Devil in the eye. And he has seen the power of redemption.
Bauknecht, a lieutenant with the Langlade County Sheriff’s Department, spent the last decade as an undercover narcotics officer, working in the northwoods as a member of Northcentral Drug Enforcement Group as well as across the state and West Coast.
“When you are in a drug house or doing a buy, you have to say a prayer for yourself and a prayer for the people in there,” he said, adding “My mother has done a lot of praying for me, too.”
An Antigo native, Bauknecht attended All Saints School and Antigo High School. He is now an active member of SS. Mary and Hyacinth Parish, where he serves as a lector, treasurer trustee, and on the parish pastoral council.
For his deep faith, Bauknecht credits his parents and grandparents, his brother, Peter, now a priest in Minneapolis, and his pastor, Fr. David Schmidt.
“Fr. Dave is and has been a rock for me, a real inspiration,” he said. “He has counseled me, encouraged me and strengthened my faith and commitment to the church. Honestly, God brought Fr. Dave into my life at just the right time.”
And he has special words for his wife, Billie.
“She has endured so much as a law enforcement officer’s wife and a narcotics officer’s wife,” he said. “It’s not a normal life, but she has risen to the occasion and is a pillar and rock for me.”
Bauknecht’s law enforcement odyssey began at a young age and his commitment has never wavered.
“We had a career day at the high school and that was the turning point,” he said. “I decided right then that this would be the rest of my life. I knew I wanted a career where I could help someone and I knew law enforcement could be that. I’ve set my path and life on being a police officer despite the cost.”
That roadmap included eschewing any kind of illicit drug or alcohol use, both as teen-ager, or while performing his undercover duties.
“I’ve never done an illegal drug in my life,” he said, “which is odd, since I ended up in a career where I would be expected to know everything about the drug and cause and effect.”
He joined the Langlade County Sheriff’s Department in 1998 as a part-time corrections officer and steadily moved through the ranks to become a full-time deputy and, in 2004, a corporal, with supervisory and training duties.
“That was a very impactful job because you were working with the new hires,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to put my fingerprint on the department.”
In 2006 he was named narcotics officer, a position be maintained for the next decade.
“I was a strait-laced guy, shined shoes and a crease in my pants,” Bauknecht said. “I remember going home and walking in the house and my mom and dad saw me with long hair dyed four different shades of blond and earrings. It was quite a shock.”
Bauknecht proved to be stunningly good at narcotics enforcement, seeming to move easily through a gruesome drug culture that quickly ensnared its victims.
“I did it completely off the cuff and completely winging it,” he said. “It worked for me.”
He has recounted those experiences in regular seminars for lawmakers, parents and the general public, as well as an ecumenical program, “The Cross of Addiction.”
“Dope is their supreme being, the higher power in the user’s life,” Bauknecht said. “He or she is subjugated to its will; he or she follows its commandments. To the addict, each shot of drugs in the vein, hit of the pipe or nip off the bottle is a shot of divine love.”
Bauknecht was promoted from the narcotics beat in 2016, much to the relief of his family, but he remains passionate about the work and continues to search for ways to help people beat their addictions — through his presentations and prayer.
He carries that passion in other parts of his work. Whether at a suicide, which he calls “a very dark time,” a vehicle accident, or other mishap, he will often ask those involved if they would like him to contact clergy.
“If I know they are Catholic, I will try to make contact with a priest,” he said. “At that time in their lives, people are not thinking straight and I try to bring that opportunity to the forefront.”
Bauknecht has seen people enthralled by a demon that, unless intervention is done, will certainly kill them after a long and torturous downfall.
“In narcotics work, you see people at the lowest point in their lives,” he said. “You have a real opportunity to improve their lives at their hour of need.”
He has seen people who have beaten their addictions, rebuilt their lives and helped others.
“You lean on your faith. I am an instrument of God, here for a purpose, I have a job,” he said. “God has a purpose for everyone. We stay faithful, we work hard, we keep trying. This job has taken a piece of my soul, but it has added a piece as well.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Dan Bauknecht
Parish: SS. Mary and Hyacinth, Antigo
Favorite saint: Michael the Archangel
Words to live by: “Evil prevails when good men do nothing.”