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Zumbrota police chief ready to move on

By Sandy Hadler, contributor

ZUMBROTA — Police Chief Gary Selness will retire at the end of the year. 

In a letter sent to council members June 10, Selness announced that his last day of work will be Dec. 31. He has been a peace officer for the city for 34 years and has served as chief for 29 years.

He will turn 60 at the end of the year. He said it is time to step aside and let a younger person take over the position.

Upon hearing the news, Council members Tina Hostager and Sara Durhman jokingly told Selness they refused to accept his retirement.

Selness was born in Decorah, Iowa, and grew up on a farm in Winneshiek County, Iowa. While serving in the U.S. Army from 1976-1979, he took a number of college courses in criminal justice at the Hartford Community College in Maryland. He completed his associate’s degree in criminal justice at Rochester Community and Technical College after ending active duty.

He credits his brother, a civilian police officer, for getting him interested in the profession. Prior to coming to Zumbrota, Selness worked in Chatfield, Minnesota, as a police officer for a year and a half. He and his wife, Kristie, moved to Zumbrota in 1980. He was promoted to chief of police in 1985 after Chief Don Bolster died.

When Selness came to Zumbrota, the police department had a small one-room office in the old fire hall, which is now the Zumbrota Historical Society building. The department had one squad car with gumball emergency lights, six-shot revolver pistols, a four-channel radio and a pager. And the red light was still on the top of the Laundromat to let officers know they had a call for service, but it was no longer used.

 “We moved into our current building in 1997 with ample room for expansion. We now have three squads with digital radios that have almost unlimited capacity to talk to anyone, anywhere. We have transitioned from revolvers to automatic pistols, shotguns to rifles and have LED light bars on the squad cards,” he said.

“One of the most amazing transitions is the technology. The squad cars have computers to receive calls for service, to write citations electronically, to look up someone’s photo in an instance, and GPS to track the squads, cellphones and instant communication with other officers, and the list goes on and on.”

Selness said his favorite part of the job has been working with people and being able to help them.

“Working with kids is especially fun because they always look up to a police officer and are interested in our equipment. And they always ask if I’ve arrested someone today,” he said.

Selness is looking forward to pursuing his hobbies, which include fishing, hunting and woodworking. He said, “I still have my health and I want to be able to enjoy some of life while I still can and just take it easy, if there is such a thing. I probably will have an arm’s length honey-do list to work on!”

A committee comprising Selness, Mayor Rich Bauer, City Administrator Neil Jensen and Councilman Brad Drenckhahn will begin the process of finding a replacement for the position.

Twenty-three year veteran police officer Gene Leifeld retired from the Zumbrota police force in May. Selness noted that Leifeld was instrumental in leading DARE in town, a popular anti-drug program for young students, which was part of Zumbrota-Mazeppa School programming for many years.

Longtime public works director Rick Lohmann retired from his position several months ago.

Jensen said the retirements were inevitable, based on the ages of these longtime employees. He said their experience will be missed. New, younger faces will continue to appear at city hall, as the changing of the guard continues.