JEFFERSON — The death of 99-year-old law enforcement groundbreaker Ella Reinel, believed to have been the first female sheriff in Wisconsin, has elicited tribute from her former Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.
"The passing of Ella (Reinel) is certainly sad news,” Jefferson County Chief Deputy Jeff Parker said Tuesday. “She and her husband, Sheriff Roger Reinel, were trailblazers in their time.”
According to her obituary Monday, former Jefferson County Sheriff Ella Reinel died peacefully at her Jefferson home on Thursday, leaving a legacy of community service and ongoing dedication to the sheriff’s office.
Born Oct. 17, 1921 in Watertown, Reinel was the second oldest of seven children of William and Laura Kittel. She had three brothers and three sisters, and she outlived them all. She spoke only German until she began attending school.
Reinel began a long life of work at the tender age of 12, at Eva’s Bakery in Watertown, where she helped support her family. She was immediately deemed to be a hard worker and was asked to work at Hero’s Tavern in Watertown. Over the course of her life, she became known for her community service with organizations such as St. Coletta’s and Tomorrow’s Hope.
It was at a dance at Watertown’s Turner Hall that Ella met Roger Reinel, Sr. and the pair went on to be married at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Watertown on May 9, 1942. They began their life together in Fort Atkinson and had two children.
After serving overseas in the Army during WWII, Roger went on to work as a police officer with the City of Fort Atkinson and later transferred to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. Shortly after, he was asked to run for sheriff and was elected as the youngest sheriff in the area, at age 33.
“This launched an entire new set of challenges for Ella,” Reinel's family said in her obituary. "She became a matron, deputy sheriff, under sheriff, as well as cooking all the meals, starting with breakfast though dinner, for the inmates, seven days a week.”
Reinel ran for, and was elected, sheriff in 1967. This made her one of the only women in the State of Wisconsin to serve as a sheriff and the only woman ever elected to the position in Jefferson County, according to county officials.
"I never had the opportunity to formally know Ella,” Parker said. “Over the years, she would send in letters of support and encouragement, and donations for the K-9 program. Her unwavering desire to support law enforcement was part of the fabric of who she was. Ella was part of the sheriff’s office family in so many ways throughout her life — professionally — to her lifetime achievements of staying involved. She did this through organizations like the Wisconsin Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff Association, The Loyal Few and (a K-9 support group). This was Ella's way of showing respect to a career field that she loved with all her heart.”
Reinel and her family also established the Reinel Law Enforcement Scholarship, which is awarded to Jefferson High School students each year at $2,000 each.
Parker said it is particularly fitting that Reinel be remembered this week, which happens to be National Police Memorial Week.
“The motto of this week is 'Never Forget,’” Parker said. “So, ‘Thank you, Sheriff Ella Reinel, for your contributions to law enforcement and to the community of Jefferson County. We will not forget.'"