by Jim Boyle
A funeral service will be held today (Saturday, Jan. 5) for Earl H. Hohlen, a 93-year-old Elk River man whose 45-year career as a lawman included a stint as Elk River’s chief of police.
He died Christmas night, Dec. 25, 2012.
The funeral service will begin at 1 p.m. at Dare’s Funeral Home, 805 Main St. N.W., Elk River. Visitation will be one hour prior to the service at the funeral home. Interment will be at Becker Cemetery.
Hohlen is being remembered by his fellow lawmen as someone who was well known, easy to approach and fair. He also had courage, a strong faith life and determination.
“I learned a lot of good things from Earl,” said former Sheriff Bruce Anderson, who met Hohlen as a youth growing up in the Elk River area. Hohlen as a deputy policed old Elk River haunts like Barney’s Cafe in downtown Elk River.
Hohlen’s law enforcement career began in 1948 and included stops in Sacred Heart, Henderson, Belle Plaine before former Sherburne County Sheriff Nial J. Neumann asked him to come to Elk River in the early 1950s. He became for a time the county’s lone paid deputy and got to know just about everyone in Sherburne County.
“He was most concerned about prevention and the human side of things,” said Janis Grinde, one of four of Hohlen’s daughters. “He wasn’t about seeing who could hand out the most tickets. What glory is in that?
“He would rather counsel someone and tell them not to let him catch them again making the same mistake.”
Hohlen was hired as the chief of the Elk River Police Department in February 1968. His time as the chief would be short.
Jim Powell, a retired state trooper who grew up in Elk River, remembers going to school with one of Hohlen’s daughters and later in life meeting up with the lawman in his work after he too joined the ranks of law enforcement.
“He was a character,” Powell said. “I remember how he always wanted to be sheriff. I think he wore a brown uniform even when he was with the police department.”
Hohlen didn’t stay long in Elk River before taking the top job at the Becker Police Department. Powell recalls he didn’t get along real well with the Village Council.
“He had his ideas about how things should be done,” Powell said.
In July of 1970 he responded to a complaint by a liquor store manager regarding his handling of one of his clerks. Hohlen told council members he suggested to the clerk not to sell alcohol to a particular customer who had a record and had children in his automobile.
Village council members concluded there was a lack of communication between Hohlen and the manager but that Hohlen had acted in good faith, according to the minutes of the July 6, 1970, meeting.
That same meeting, Hohlen and Ronald DeRosier told the council they saw no problem in allowing a canoe race to be put on in August of that year by the Elk River Jaycees.
Later that month in a July 20 regular meeting of the Village Council, Hohlen was authorized to spend $200 on a remote radio station to enable all police, both full-time and part-time, to receive phone calls in their homes.
Hohlen reported that it would aid in overall police dispatching. They caused problems, however.
At the meeting Sept. 23, 1970, the council agreed to have the police phones removed from police officers’ residences as soon as possible.
That same meeting, Hohlen issued a verbal resignation from his post after an apparent dustup between Hohlen and one his officers.
The meeting minutes reported Hohlen said the reason for his resignation was that he had an officer who would not take orders and passed out confidential information, and that as chief of police he had no authority to do anything about it. He told the Sherburne County Star News for its Oct. 1, 1970 edition that he questioned what he was the chief of if he was not able dismiss personnel if he believed it was necessary.
Hohlen went on to become the Becker police chief, a post he held until his retirement from law enforcement.
He received several awards for his investigative work and service throughout the years. He did run for sheriff on at least a couple of occasions, but lost his bids to Chet Goenner.
Hohlen was more than just a lawman
The Clear Lake native, who was born Dec. 7, 1919, to Herbert and Bertha Hohlen, was interested in politics and religion, his colleagues said of him. He got involved in party politics and had deep religious convictions.
Hohlen and his wife Lorraine, married in 1940 and raised four daughters: Cindy Lindgren, Dianne Maddy, Janice Grinde and Kathy Swanberg.
In addition to being a lawman, he was also an excavator and property developer and a welder.
“He was so self-taught,” Grinde said. “Anything he puts his hand on he could do. If he just watched somebody, he could do it.”
The couple owned and operated the trailer park along Highway 169 in Elk River. Hohlen began assembling the land in the late 1950s, and turned it into the trailer park in the early 1960s. The land has since been developed into the home of the Elk River Wal-Mart and The Home Depot and other commercial businesses.
Hohlen was as comfortable in a squad car as he was in a Bobcat moving dirt around on his property.
Hohlen survived an invasive surgery to remove his stomach in a life-threatening battle with stomach cancer. He asked his surgeon before he retired how many people survived the surgery he performed on him. The surgeon replied he was looking at the lone survivor.
“He had determination not to give in,” Grinde said. “My mother was instrumental in accommodating his affliction and deserves a lot of credit, and he also had faith that God was going to take care of him.”
Hohlen also had courage, recalls Gary Poslusny, who knew Hohlen for 42 years and got to know him especially well while working as an investigator for the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office.
Hohlen had a mailbox at the sheriff’s office that he would stop and check daily on his way to his post in Becker. Poslusny’s office was located directly across the mailroom. The two talked shop and kept up on current events together.
Poslusny, however, will never forget responding to a call of a Zimmerman man on his way to Minneapolis to blow up his brother’s house.
Law enforcement officers set up a road block on Highway 101 just south of Elk River. Eventually the car with the man began to approach and stopped, but he refused to get out of the car despite the shrill demands heard over a megaphone.
This dragged on.
About 15 minutes had lapsed when Earl Hohlen came onto the scene. He heard of the commotion on a police scanner he fired up at the trailer court.
“Pretty soon Earl pulls up,” Poslusny recalled. “He drove past us, got out of his vehicle and walked over the individual’s car, opened the door and dragged him out,” Poslusny recalled. “The man had courage.”
Former Sherburne County Sheriff’s Deputy and Big Lake Chief of Police Norman “Skip” Gerlach remembers Hohlen always having a story to tell. Most of all he remembers the fairness he had on the job.
“He was very fair,” he said. “If he could give you a break, he gave you a break. He didn’t have to write everybody up.”
Hohlen was preceded in death by his wife, Lorraine, in 2008.