Jeff Rickaby, who has been sheriff of neighboring Florence County for 29 years, will retire at the end of the year. He first assumed the office in 1989 and he went on to become the longest serving sheriff in Wisconsin. 

Two other long-serving sheriffs in Wisconsin will turn in their keys in December of this year. They are Brad Gehring of Outagamie County and Terry Dryden of Washburn County. Both were elected in 1990 and served 28-year tenures. 

Rickaby was appointed sheriff by former governor Tommy Thompson in 1989 following the resignation of Richard Koski. Rickaby had been serving as an officer with the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Department. 

A primary election will be held Aug. 14 and the general election is set for Nov. 6. Potential candidates have until 5 p.m. June 1 to declare their candidacy. Two candidates already have declared they will seek the job — Dan Miller of Aurora, a detective with the Marinette County Sheriff’s Department, and Chief Deputy David Gribble of Florence County Sheriff’s Department. 

When Rickaby took over as Florence County’s top cop the county didn’t even have a functional jail or its own 911 dispatching service. Officers housed inmates in two holding cells or transported them back and forth from jails in neighboring counties. Dickinson County, a Michigan border county and a Florence County neighbor, handled all of the 911 dispatch services. 

A new law enforcement center was erected in 2001. The facility included a 28-cell jail and dispatch center. Today, the department has a staff of 23 people, plus correctional officers who double as dispatchers. 

The sheriff’s department in Florence County has come a long way since Rickaby’s first year in office. Rickaby’s only connection to the county when he accepted the governor’s appointment was the fact he owned a hunting cabin in the county. 

The sheriff won’t be in full retirement after he packs away his badge. He plans to be active in other public services. He is president of the Aurora-Homestead Rescue Squad, a member of the Homestead volunteer fire department, chairman of the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Board of Directors and serves on the Caring House Board. He also is a candidate for the office of county coroner, a part-time position. 

Law enforcement work is not easy. The job is stressful and often is open to public criticism. Longevity for a sheriff is uncommon when compared to earlier times when it was not unusual for the top lawman in a county to spend 30-40 years in office. 

In the case of Florence County, an outsider came into office as sheriff and helped guide the county into modern times in terms of services and facilities. Not only that, but the outgoing lawman is going to hang around and continue to serve the residents of a small northeastern county with the skill and experience he learned during a 29-year run as sheriff. 

The citizens of Florence County should be grateful that Rickaby fell in love with the territory while relaxing at his hunting cabin and decided to make it a long partnership.