Chief John Solem

The Windom Police Department was officially formed in 1928 with the hiring of its first Uniformed Officer, John “Long John” Solem on March 1, 1928.  Records are sparse prior to 1928, but newspaper clippings show at least one prior constable, Tom Hawkins, who was responsible for the law within the City of Windom from at least 1905.  Chief Solem’s nickname “Long John” came from his above-average height for the time of 6’4” and his lanky build. It was mockingly said, that “he could walk the square in four paces.” Chief John Solem

In 1935, the City purchased its first Police car.  The squad car pulled double duty as the town taxi ferrying night hospital workers and anyone who didn’t get picked up by the train.

WPD 1938 Squad Car

1938 Squad Car

Solem met every train that came to town and gave many a GI a ride home to their families.   In addition, to his regular police duties arresting drunks and thieves,  Chief Solem would check the businesses doors around 9pm, making sure they were locked, then at around 1130pm he would stop by the local restaurants, where people had left letters for mailing.  Depositing them in his satchel, he would take the mail to the depot and sort it for mailing.  Chief Solem was the sole Law Enforcement Officer in Windom until 1948 when he hired Bob Steele.   He worked as Chief of Police for 29 years when he retired in 1956 as the legendary “Long John” Solem.

WPD 1960's patch

After Solem retired, Bob Steele became chief in 1956, followed by George Letourneau in 1963, and Chet Baarstad in 1967.

Police Station 1960's

City Hall Police Station 1960’s

During this era, the police department was housed in an office in city hall. The department had two squad cars for use on patrol but the second car was the personal vehicle of the chief.

Ofc. Horkey gives a ticket to the mayor

In this photo, Patrolman Howard Horkey is giving a parking ticket to the mayor.   The caption states that he took pride in the fact that everybody gets a ticket when he was on the beat.   He even gave a ticket to his wife, while the kids were in the car!  Don’t worry, the mayor got off pretty easy, back then the fine was just 50 cents.

In the 60’s, the department grew to a full time force of 6 which included Larry Ray, Howard Horkey, Wally Buhler, Jim Donahue, and Richard Thompson, as shown in the picture below, is rookie Merrill Bush getting his first badge.

1969 Windom Officers

Wally Buhler recalls that his wage was two-hundred thirty dollars a month with a three dollar a month uniform allowance.  Officers typically worked long stretches of days with no overtime.  During one stretch, Buhler said he worked 108 straight night shifts had a few weeks off and then worked another 87 night shifts in a row.  The officers, led by Buhler’s initiative, eventually demanded that city hall give them overtime which the city finally granted for all police staff and all city employees.

WPD 1979

In mid 1970’s, the Police department moved to the new addition in the Sheriff’s office and Elton  “Al” Wagner took the department reigns in 1973.   Windom was one of the first communities in Minnesota to operate with the 911 system.

This photo, taken in 1987, shows Kevin Patterson, Jim White, Secretary Deb Nesseth, Al Wagner, Jim Donahue, Robert Shoemaker, Bruce Toninato and Jeff Shirkey  in front of the then new Police offices attached to the old County Jail.

In 1993, the current Cottonwood County Law Enforcement Center was constructed and now houses the Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and a full-time jail.

In 1997, Chief Gary Johnson came to the department as chief for the next four years and was succeeded by long-time officer Jeff Shirkey.  The Windom Police Department currently has 9 full time officers including a Chief and Asst. Chief with officers with specialties ranging from investigations, Drug Task Force, D.A.R.E., Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC), Defensive Tactics Instruction, and Firearms Instruction

Since 1928 there have been 48 officers, 2 parking meter officers, and 8 Chiefs.

SPECIAL THANKS to the Cottonwood County Historical Society for photographs and research assistance

Chief’s of Police

John Solem 1928-56

Bob Steele 1956-63

George Letourneau 1963-67

Chester Baarstad  1967-72

Elton Wagner 1972-97

Gary Johnson 1997-01

Jeffrey Shirkey 2001-11

Scott Peterson 2011-

Past and Current Officers
Year StartedEnd of Service
Andrew Kinnetz2023
Hunter Braun2023
Austin Lasky2022
Isaak Paulson2020
Rebecca McPeak20202022
Adam Watkins20192019
Ryan Hillesheim20192022
Brandon Thongviong20172019
David Huse20172020
Luke Landgraf20152017
Devin Kopperud2014
Jon Beck20132019
Scott Peterson2011
Louis Norell20112023
Josh Partlow20102014
Cory Hillesheim20102024
Justin Derickson20072009
Dana Wallace2002
Donna Marcy2001
Todd Hyatt20002014
Jeff LaCanne19982000
Gary Johnson19972001
Shawn Haken19972009
Kent Kelly19932011
Dana Larsen19911997
Doug Cox19902001
Timothy Dwyer19891990
Kevin Patterson19872017
Robert Shoemaker1986?
James White1985?
John Blue??
Rodney Byam??
Craig Trapp19851986
Bruce Toninato19842011
Gary Guck19821985
Jeff Shirkey19782011
Paul Galbraith1976?
Mike Pritzlaff??
Merrill Bush19701977
Larry Ray??
Richard Thompson??
Elton Wagner19731997
Scott Minor19731975
James Donahue1972?
Don Olson19701972
Arthur R. Strunk, Jr19651968
Wally Buhler19631983
George LeTourneau19631967
Chester Baarstad19591973
Howard Horkey19561970
John Benson1951?
Bob Steele19471963
Tom Hawkins1905?1928
John Solem19281956