Soft-spoken 'mountain of a man' Sheriff Peterson honored on his retirement

Dec. 21—MANKATO — Blue Earth County Sheriff Brad Peterson grew up near Lake Crystal, but his family moved to Florida when he was 15.

It was there he got interested in law enforcement, joining the Palm Beach County deputy reserve program when he was a senior in high school.

"But I knew I would come back to Lake Crystal when I graduated."

In 1978 he was hired as a police officer in Amboy, then spent a few months as a cop in Lake Crystal before getting hired as a sheriff's deputy in 1980. In 1994 he ran against the incumbent sheriff, LeRoy Wiebold, and won. He never had an opponent in subsequent elections.

On Wednesday, law enforcement colleagues from around the area, elected officials, friends and others honored Peterson at a retirement reception at the Blue Earth County Government Center.

The new sheriff, starting in January, will be Jeff Wersal. The longtime deputy beat another longtime deputy, Paul Barta, in November's election.

Peterson's nearly three-decade career as sheriff was longer than it would have needed to be. "I could have retired 11 years ago with a full pension, but this was the right time," he said.

His tenure was marked by an absence of any drama, scandal or rumblings of disgruntled employees. Those who've worked for him praise him for his quiet leadership.

Peterson said he's proud his department was recognized across the state as an organization people wanted to work at.

"We have great people. We didn't really recruit. People in law enforcement would call me from around the state and say we had a good reputation, and if there was a job opening, they wanted to apply."

Chief Deputy Mike Maurer, who also was honored at the event Wednesday upon his pending retirement, said Peterson was a great leader.

"His biggest strength is that he lets the managers manage and the staff do their job. He never micromanaged," said Maurer, who started as a Mankato police officer in 1996 and was hired by Peterson and served the past 16 years as chief deputy.

Vance Stuehrenberg, a 12-year member of the Blue Earth County Board, first met Peterson when Stuehrenberg was a police officer in Lake Crystal from 1977 to 1980. He said Peterson's personality made him a good sheriff.

"He's a big guy. He was a mountain of a man when he was younger, but soft spoken. He was always soft spoken, but people heard what he said. He always thought about the people who worked for him," Stuehrenberg said. "I never once heard him yell at anybody."

County Commissioner Kip Bruender has known Peterson for more than 20 years. He said Peterson's legacy includes his role in helping design and get built the county Justice Center on the far east edge of Mankato, which opened in 2009.

"He was a key piece in getting this Justice Center," Bruender said.

Peterson and Maurer were both part of a large group that spent a decade planning the center.

"We were out of room at the (old) jail," Peterson said.

Having the old downtown jail a distance from the courts made for transportation hassles.

"At first we were looking at just building a new jail." But it became apparent that having the whole criminal justice system — including court rooms, county attorney, jail and others — under one roof made sense.

Peterson said he has no huge retirement plans. Some travel, more time for hunting and outdoor pursuits, and family.

"We're very involved with our grandkids. Going to all the sports and concerts and stuff."

His wife, Susan, organized an earlier retirement party for him for family and friends and the department organized Wednesday's reception.

Peterson said he appreciates them, but the soft-spoken guy said he'd have been fine without the attention.

"I kind of hoped to just sneak away and retire."