Retired Willmar Police officer to enjoy Willmar Fests from the head of the parade
Retired Willmar Police Sgt. Mike Jahnke has been named the 2022 Willmar Fests Grand Marshal. Jahnke served almost 30 years on the police force, with duties ranging from patrol officer, SWAT team member and making sure many of Willmar's events were safe and enjoyable for residents and visitors alike.
WILLMAR — For the past several years, the week of Willmar Fests had been a busy one for Mike Jahnke, who in his last duty assignment with the Willmar Police Department served as the force's community outreach sergeant. It was his job to work with special event organizers to make sure celebrations ran smoothly and safely for all involved, including Willmar Fests.
"I was helping with organizing all the traffic control, pedestrian control for all the (Willmar Fests) events," Jahnke said. "Many years working with them."
This year, Jahnke, who retired in January, will be enjoying the Willmar Fests festivities from a rather special spot — from the head of the parade, to be exact, as the 2022 Willmar Fests Grand Marshal.
"I feel honored being asked," Jahnke said. "After spending a life time in public service, this is a nice honor."
It will be special way to thank a man who dedicated nearly his entire law enforcement career to the city of Willmar.
Jahnke joined the Navy right out of high school, serving four years active duty. He then made the difficult decision to leave, deciding to become a police officer. He served in a military police unit in the Minnesota National Guard for a few years before leaving the military life behind for good.
"It all worked out for me. It was a good path for me," Jahnke said.
After graduating college and becoming a licensed peace officer, Jahnke joined the Willmar Police Department in 1994, his first and only department. He and his wife, Debra, fell in love with the community and decided to raise their two children here.
"We were here to stay," Jahnke said. "We really liked the area, liked the city."
Jahnke wore many different hats while working for the police department. He started as a patrol officer before working on drug and gang investigations and the SWAT team, eventually rising to the level of team leader.
"They were my favorite assignments," Jahnke said. "Because it was challenging, and it felt very worthwhile. It felt like you were making a difference, protecting the community. That is what I enjoy most."
He then took over as patrol sergeant and then closed out his career in his community outreach role. His responsibilities including overseeing the department's school resource officers, community service officers and the Community Emergency Response Team, in addition to his special event duties.
"After spending a lot of time in the police force, it was a good way to end, working with the community, helping them accomplish their goals," Jahnke said.
Jahnke said he always wanted to be a police officer, seeing it as a way he could serve the public. That drive towards service in part came from multiple family members serving in the military along with his time as a student at Cretin High School (now Cretin-Derham Hall), a private Catholic school, where Jahnke participated in the school's junior Reserve Officers' Training Corp. There, Jahnke had both the military and Catholic faith teaching him about the importance of serving the public.
"Public service, protecting the public. I have always wanted to be in public service. It started in the military and I extended it to policing," Jahnke said.
Even after retirement, Jahnke continues to serve his community. This past school year, he worked as a substitute teacher for Willmar Public Schools, a role he believes he will filling for the foreseeable future. It is just another way to help the community.
"Continues what I like doing, which is public service. They really needed the help," Jahnke said. "Serving, it is just where I get my most satisfaction. I always find my way back to that."
With Willmar Fests soon arriving, Jahnke is excited to be taking part in the festivities without the added responsibilities of his police role. While he was a police officer, Jahnke would work the entire week of Willmar Fests, running from one event to the other. Now, he is able to sit back and really enjoy the fun, watching the crowds, and of course taking part in the Grande Day Parade on Saturday.
"It is kind of nice, that I still get to be a part of it. It is quite special," Jahnke said. "I am really looking forward to it."