Rising through the ranks
JANESVILLE When Tom Gehl started work at the Rock County Sheriff's Office, he washed squad cars in the summer to help pay for college.
He was a student at Northwestern University in 1976 when he washed cars and became interested in law enforcement.
He was later offered a job as a sheriff's deputy before graduating.
"I told them I would be honored to work here," Gehl said. "I finished my finals on a Friday, moved back from college and started work here on Monday morning."
Gehl, 54, climbed the ranks from car washer to commander in more than 31 years at the sheriff's office. He is retiring Friday.
Sheriff Bob Spoden said it would be hard to replace Gehl.
"I'm going to miss that experience and knowledge that I can draw from whenever we have a tough case or tough situation," Spoden said. "I value his wisdom and advice."
Gehl is from Janesville and graduated from Parker High School. He began his career working in the jail. He then went on patrol for five years.
He became a detective and worked undercover on drug investigations. He was later promoted to lieutenant and supervised detectives. Eventually, he became commander and oversaw law enforcement. Most recently, he has been in charge of the jail.
In his office, Gehl has pictures of his wife, Beth, his son, Patrick, and his daughter, Erin. He said he has appreciated his family's support when he was away investigating major crimes for hours or days at a time.
"Never have I heard a word of complaint from my family," Gehl said.
He has a framed poster of a homemade canoe from the Adirondack Museum in New York, a testament to his love of history. He also has photos and a framed picture related to one of his favorite hobbies, competitive shooting.
"To me, if I spend a day on the range, there is nothing better than that," he said.
Gehl has fond memories of being a Boy Scouts adviser to kids interested in law enforcement. He remains in touch with former scouts, including two Rock County deputies.
He has worked nearly every homicide case since becoming a detective. He said solving major crimes and helping victims were among the most fulfilling parts of his career.
He said helping with jail alternative programs and working on the jail renovation project also have been enjoyable.
He is quick to give credit to others for his success.
"They are the ones that have been able to get the job done," Gehl said. "It's been an incredible group of men and women and it's been a privilege to serve with them."
Gehl wants to spend more time with family and teach at a technical college when he retires. He will continue shooting competitively. He also wants to learn how to play the piano.
"I love piano music and always thought it would be wonderful to play the piano," he said. "That is something I've always wanted to do."
He will likely visit more historical sites and museums on vacations. He also wants to help his daughter plan her 2012 wedding.
Spoden said Gehl would be successful in whatever he does.
"Any activity that Tom involves himself in, he becomes a leader and isn't afraid to speak his mind and bring forth fresh ideas," Spoden said. "He's a great guy and a good friend of mine."
Gehl said he would miss the people at the sheriff's office most when he retires. He said he is glad he chose a life in law enforcement.
"I found the right career, and I found the right place to serve," he said. "I can't say that there has ever been a day where I didn't want to come in and do my job."
Even when he was washing cars.