GONZALES — Harold Tridico, who spent nearly 50 years with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and more than two decades as the parish’s sheriff, died on Thursday at the age of 86.

Tridico joined the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office in 1948, working under longtime Sheriff Hickley Waguespack, served two years as chief deputy under Sheriff Richard Coriell and then succeeded Coriell as sheriff in 1974. The Donaldsonville native then spent the next 22 years as the chief law enforcement officer in the parish.

His right-hand man and successor, Jeff Wiley, credited Tridico with moving the Sheriff’s Office from a small, rural operation into one that could handle the demands of the parish’s rapidly growing population and expanding economy. Tridico recognized the growth quickly and understood that if the Sheriff’s Office stayed the same, it actually would be losing ground, Wiley said.

Wiley described Tridico, a U.S. Navy and World War II veteran, as “old school” and someone who believed in working to earn a living. Those are traits that Tridico passed down to the man he first hired in 1974.

“He was a great mentor of mine in many, many ways,” said Wiley, who became sheriff after Tridico’s retirement in 1996. “He was very principled, self-disciplined. I credit him for being the architect, or at least the catalyst, of the evolution in Ascension Parish.”

When reached by phone at the Tridico family’s home in Gonzales, a relative declined to comment, saying that Wiley knew Tridico well and could speak on behalf of the family.

Tridico took over a law enforcement agency that still was segregated and pushed it forward sociologically as well as professionally, which was a “real departure from the old days,” Wiley said. Tridico upgraded Sheriff’s Office equipment and also sought to hire college-educated, career-oriented law enforcement professionals.

One of those professionals was Wiley, who spent eight years as Tridico’s chief deputy. Tridico also hired most of Wiley’s leadership team, including his current chief deputy, Tony Bacala. Wiley said Tridico taught his employees how to be public servants.

“His service was 48 years, but in great evidence he continues to serve,” Wiley said. “His DNA is all over our department, from the sheriff, the chief deputy, everybody.”

Tridico is survived by his wife of 67 years, Joyce; four children, Dwayne, Harold Jr., Wanza and Tammy Fernandez, and more than 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be held at 8:30 a.m. Saturday with Mass to follow at noon at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church in Donaldsonville.