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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 Police Sgt. Michael Jahnke
Retired Willmar Police Sgt. Michael Jahnke, shown in 2017, served on the Willmar Police Department for 28 years, in various roles. This week he is honored to serve in another capacity — Willmar Fests Grand Marshal.
Rand Middleton / West Central Tribune file photo
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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."

Retired Willmar Police Officer Mike Jahnke.jpg
Mike Jahnke retired from the Willmar Police Department in January 2022.
Contributed / Willmar Police Department

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.

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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.

2020 Jennie-O Covid testing Carris Health (CSO Cappelen, DeSchepper, Sgt Jahnke).JPG
Serving the community has always been important to Jahnke. In 2020, he and Community Service Officers Niki Cappelen and Hannah DeSchepper assisted at the Jennie-O Turkey Store COVID-19 testing drive.
Contributed / Willmar Police Department

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."

Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt and Sgt. Mike Jahnke
Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt, left, and Sgt. Mike Jahnke meet Aug. 12, 2020, with business owners to discuss safety concerns in downtown Willmar. Protecting Willmar's citizens was always important to Jahnke, which is why his favorite roles during his time on the force was working the drug task force, gang enforcement team and the SWAT team.
Mark Wasson / West Central Tribune

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.

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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.

Mike Jahnke in the school.jpg
Jahnke loved helping all of the community, even its smallest members, as a police officer. Now retired from the force, Jahnke is continuing reaching out, serving as a substitute teacher at Willmar Public Schools.
Contributed / Willmar Police Department

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."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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