By Linda Scherer
Former Wright County sheriff and Winsted police chief Willard Kritzeck of Winsted, died June 4, leaving behind a family law enforcement tradition that remarkably lives on today.
“The service of their family is basically a legend. The story has been told and retold of their family contributions and legacy. It is part of the history of the Wright County Sheriff’s Office,” Wright County Sheriff Gary Miller said.
It started with Willard’s father, Paul Kritzeck, who served as Wright County sheriff beginning in 1930, until his tragic death while on duty Aug. 16, 1951, at the age of 67.
He was killed just east of Howard Lake on Highway 12 when a vehicle pulled out in front of him and forced the squad car into an oncoming semi-truck.
Willard, who had been serving since 1945 as Wright County deputy, was appointed sheriff to serve out the remaining three years of his father’s term.
He continued to serve as Wright County sheriff until 1963, when he became Winsted’s chief of police. He retired from law enforcement in 1969.
Part of the Kritzeck law enforcement legacy
Paul’s son (Willard’s brother), Lawrence, became a Wright County deputy in 1951, serving until 1963, when he moved to St. Cloud to become a Stearns County deputy serving there also until his death in 1983.
Paul has two grandsons who are in law enforcement.
Willard’s son, Ron, served parttime as deputy sheriff in Ramsey County before moving to California with his wife and family. There, he graduated from the San Diego Police Academy in 1988, and worked as a police officer in Laguna Beach. Today, he works as a safety officer in Vista, Calif. with eight other security people and one full-time deputy sheriff on a school campus with 3,200 students in grades 9 through 12.
Lawrence’s son, Jack, became a Stearns County deputy in 1967, and retired in 1999.
Paul’s great-grandsons in law enforcement are:
Detective Steve Kritzeck, who has been with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office since 1995, Chief Craig Kritzeck, who was a Sherburne County deputy and was recently appointed chief of police in Nevis, Minn., and Mark Kritzeck, a police officer in Edina. There have been several other relatives who have served as law enforcement officers, both in Minnesota and throughout the country.
Willard Kritzeck always said he had a good life
“He has had a good life and he has always said that. He has outlived his brothers and one sister,” Ron Kritzeck, Willard’s son, said.
Willard was the son of Sophia and Paul Kritzeck. He has two brothers, Gervase and Lawrence, as well as two sisters, Florentine and Marietta.
The family grew up in Victor Township on a farm where they raised cattle and hogs.
Willard graduated from Holy Trinity High School in 1937.
During World War II, he served in the Navy Coast Guard with the military police from 1941 until 1945.
When he returned home, he moved to Buffalo, where he worked as a Wright County deputy.
He married Helen Thune in 1947.
They have two children Ronald and fiancée Pam Neal from Oceanside, Calif.; and Renee, married to Harold Biebel of Bowling Green, Ky.
Ron was married to the late Linda Lewandowski, who died in 1990. They have five daughters:
• Elisa is married to Paul Hernandez and they live in Oceanside, Calif. with their two boys and a girl.
• Farrah is married to Jason Barnes. They live in Florida, and have one son.
• Julie is married to Mario Anguiano and lives in Calif.
• Ronda is married to Brad Stoner and they live San Marcus, Calif.
• Trudy just graduated from the University of San Diego.
Renee and Harold have one daughter, Tiffany, who is getting married at the end of this month to Eric Vana. Tiffany lives in Elgin, Ill.
Ron remembers his dad to be an honest man who was very fair.
“He never yelled. He was always good to us. He would make us stay home for a while sometimes, or apologize to our mother if we had said something to hurt her feelings, but he never lost his temper,” Ron said.
Willard’s kindness did not just extend to his own children, but all of the children in Winsted.
“The kids growing up in town got a lot of warnings when he was police chief. They remember him as the ‘best,’” Ron said. “Many times people would thank him for his help.”
As Wright County sheriff, Willard and Ron would go out together on water patrol to check the boats on the lakes in Wright County for registration and licenses.
“That was how I was first exposed to law enforcement,” Ron said. “Then, when we came to Winsted and Dad became the chief of police, I would ride around with him at night.”
Those nights began at 8 p.m. and would end up at 4:30 in the morning. Ron recalls some of those evenings when it was snowing out and it would be so cold outside just he and his dad keeping each other company.
“It was how I became interested in law enforcement,” Ron said.
After Willard quit working in law enforcement, he worked at Sterner Lighting for 18 years in the tool crib and was the union steward there.
He also was an auctioneer for about 30 years, first working with his dad, and later with M.T. DeMars of Buffalo.
His parents never traveled much, Ron said, and they loved living in Winsted, where they have lived since Willard became Winsted’s police chief.
Willard had been in fairly good health until the end of May, when he began having trouble with his heart.
He had a pacemaker put in May 25, but never seemed to fully recover after that.
He died at Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia June 4 with his son, Ronald, and daughter, Renee, at his side.
For his funeral, there was an honor guard from the Wright County Sheriff’s Department that stood guard by his casket.
Following the service, an escort of five squad cars, four from Wright County and one from Winsted, led the procession to the Winsted Cemetery.