OFFICE TRANSFERRetiring Marinette Mayor Robert Harbick, left, is pictured viewing city books with newly elected Mayor Denise Ruleau. Harbick stated the transition is going great, with no hangups. Ruleau said she is ready for the task ahead.
Harbick Ends 47-Year Public Service Career
As of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, April 17, Marinette will have a new mayor and incumbent Mayor Robert Harbick will be officially retired. He did not seek re-election this year. He and his wife, Jean Lemery Harbick, plan to retire to property they own in Eustis, Florida, but they will keep their home on Shore Drive in Marinette as a summer residence. Were already looking forward to avoiding winter next year, Harbick says.
His retirement ends a 47-year career in public service that began in 1962 when he enlisted in the United States Marines a few months after graduating from Marinette Catholic Central High School. There were a few brief interruptions. He worked at various jobs for one year after his discharge from the Marines, and retired briefly from public office in 1993 to run his Memories restaurant (the former Reinkes) on Main Street in Marinette and then ran successfully for mayor of the city in 2006. He has held the office ever since.
He had attended the Michigan State Police Academy, was a rescue squad volunteer, Marinette City Police officer, Marinette County Deputy, Marinette County Sheriff, and Marinette County Clerk. Harbick was instrumental in organizing the first Marinette County water rescue dive team in the 1960s, and with Dr. Thomas Thompson of Beaver Dam was one of its first two members.
Harbick has made friends and enemies along the way. He admits he didnt always follow all the rules, but points out that he always got things done.
Throughout my life, I never took the easy way, Harbick declares. There was the right way, the wrong way and Harbicks way.
Harbick is proud of progress the city has made since he took office as mayor, but refuses to take the credit. I was the cheerleader. My team did the work, he declared. We had a great team! While his actions as mayor may or may not have directly brought some of the projects to reality, particularly the Marinette Marine LCS contracts or the KSU expansion, he believes the stability of city government and general cooperation of the city had an impact on the decisions.
Harbick said back in 1890 Marinette was one of the 10 largest cities in Wisconsin. While it isnt likely to achieve that status again, he hopes he has helped to get the city moving forward on the path to growth and prosperity.
Among accomplishments either finished or underway for the city are dredging the Eighth Street Slip and slough area, which will make the river 10 feet deeper by the docks, plus additional dredging being done by Ansul. Tyco to remove contaminants; the Marinette Marine contracts, the Super Wal-Mart Store, the KSU expansion, and others.
Born July 31, 1942 to Wilmer and Dorothy Harbick, Robert Bob Harbick was the second youngest of five children. He attended St. Josephs Catholic elementary school through eighth grade, and then attended what was Marinette Catholic Central High School, graduating in May of 1961. Through most of his school days Harbick frequently assisted at Mass as an altar boy.
He enlisted in the United States Marines in October of 1961, and reported to boot camp on Jan. 21, 1962. He was assigned to 5th Marines H.Q. Company for tank training, but later requested transfer to Marine cooks school at Camp Pendleton. After completing culinary training, Harbick was assigned to a ship on which he and three other cooks were responsible for preparing three meals a day plus snacks for 1,000 Marines.
They went first to Okinawa, which Harbick describes as one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific.
At one point, Harbick was flown to the Philippines to help set up camp for a Marine flotilla - a float battalion made up mainly of flat top ships with helicopter landing pads on deck. Harbick was stationed on an accompanying LSD. The battalion chaplain learned there was a trained altar boy in their fleet. He would regularly send a helicopter for Harbick, who would be transported by a sling hung below the chopper to the larger ship to serve Mass, and then be returned to his LSD the same way.
Then they sailed back to Okinawa. He was in Yokohama, Japan on Nov. 23, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was killed.
From August to October of 1964, Harbicks ship was stationed off the coast of Viet Nam while the sugar riots were going on. We were there, but nobody knew we were there, Harbick said. We were all black - no lights - and they were looking for us.
Then the commander came on the air and announced they were heading back to Okinawa and home. Harbick was discharged with a rank of Corporal E-4 after 2 1/2 years in the Marines. He got a ribbon for serving in Viet Nam, although he says he never set foot on Vietnamese soil.
Harbick said the day after he got home, he began applying for jobs, and almost immediately got three calls.
He worked at Marinette Marine for three months, sold cars for Ed Lindner, and ran a gas station for his brother-in-law Bob Jozaitis. But, Harbick said, he had always known he wanted to be a police officer, even though he had not been an MP in the Marines. He credits the belief that it would be an honor to be a police officer to his admiration of Wisconsin State Trooper Jerry Buhr, who he had known and admired as a youth.
In 1966, Harbick married the former Bette Oehler of Marinette. They had a son, Scott Michael, who attended St. Josephs Elementary School and graduated from Marinette Catholic Central High School. He then went on to medical school at UW-Madison. Scott and his wife, Cara, have one son, Max, who is now six years old. They currently live in Appleton.
Also in 1966, Harbick joined the M&M Rescue Squad, but had to give that up in January of 1967 when he was hired by Chief Frank Hesyk as a City of Marinette police officer.
In 1967 he joined Michigan State Police and attended their police academy, which he describes as a good one. He had joined with the understanding he would be assigned to a post in the Upper Peninsula, but his first assignment was to a position in Lower Michigan, where he did not want to live. After two months he resigned, despite the $110 per week salary. He worked at Marinette Marine and then returned to the Marinette Police Department for a couple of months.
In June of 1968, when Don Witt was sheriff, Harbick was hired by Marinette County Sheriffs Department. His pay was $383 a month. At the time, he was one of only five deputies. There was no 24-hour patrol, and often no officer on duty in all of Marinette County except for those in the cities. Harbick said the regular shifts were 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the night shift ended at 2 a.m. After that, there was no one on routine patrol. Officers had to live in assigned districts and they took their squad cars home with them in case a call came in. The work assignments remained basically the same under Sheriff Earl Wagner.
Later, after Sheriff Joe Larson was elected they started working regular shifts with 24-hour patrol.
Harbicks law enforcement career was as flamboyant as he sometimes is, and brought involvement in a number of well publicized arrests.
Back in 1968, while still a rookie with the department, Harbick was instrumental in recovering a front end loader worth $11,000 that had been stolen from an Illinois heavy equipment dealer. For that, Sheriff Witt received a letter of commendation for Harbick from the Illinois Bureau of Investigation, advising that not only had Harbick made it possible for them to return the machine to its rightful owner, his work contributed to an ongoing investigation they believed would bring several major organized crime figures to justice.
Marinette County Sheriffs Department had received a request for help from Illinois investigators, who were having a problem with organized crime stealing heavy equipment. They believed some of it ended up in Marinette County. Harbick spotted a front end loader on Hale Road that he thought might be part of the stolen equipment. Investigation proved he was correct, and officers were able to trace it back from the local purchaser to the organization that had stolen it. The letter advised Witt, professionalism and dedication to duty was continuously displayed by Officer Robert Harbick.
In 1977, Harbick, who by then was a sergeant, received a letter of commendation from FBI Director Clarence M. Kelly in Washington, D.C. for his part in the capture of some bank robbers. Sheriff Earl Wagner received a copy.
Director Kelly wrote: My associates and I are pleased to express appreciation for the help you afforded this Bureau in apprehending three suspects in the robbery of the American National Bank of Green Bay, in Howard, Wisconsin. Your actions in placing three suspects under arrest and maintaining them in custody until assistance arrived were in the highest tradition of the law enforcement profession, and all of us in the FBI are indeed grateful for your invaluable assistance.
The armed robbery had occurred on Dec. 22, 1976. Marinette County Sheriffs Department became involved two weeks after the robbery, after Oconto County Sheriff Gerald Gehling and the three FBI agents he was working with learned that one of the suspects, Danny J. Green, 19, of Green Bay, was seen in the Mountain/Crooked Lake area, just west of the Marinette County line near Crivitz. Gehling and the FBI agents were trailing Green and two companions into the woods. They called for help, and 10 more Oconto County deputies, a total of five FBI agents from Green Bay, and three Marinette County officers responded.
Marinette County responders were Undersherifff Robert Kohlman and Deputy Roger Todzy, who arrived at the scene by squad car, and Harbick, who arrived in an Enstrom helicopter piloted by one of his friends, who was a pilot for the firm. Both Harbick and Mike Harrington received FBI commendations for their parts in the capture.
According to a news report of the arrest, the robber and his male companion were quite heavily armed. The group, all from Green Bay, included a 17-year-old girl who was not armed. They were fleeing through the woods when Harbick, riding shotgun in the chopper, spotted them. Harbick said at first the fugitives pointed their weapons at the helicopter, and he pointed his rifle back. Nobody fired. Finally the fleeing trio came out onto the frozen lake in the Town of Riverview and threw down their weapons. Harbick said by then the lake was surrounded. The chopper landed and Harbick held the fugitives at gunpoint until Gehling and FBI agents arrived.
Harbicks role in the 1979 apprehension of two Idaho State Prison escapees drew commendations from Thomas R. Neville, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney from Boise, Idaho; Marinette County Sheriff Joe Larson, and State Rep. Dick Matty. One of the convicts, Theodore Dickie, was serving a sentence for rape and murder, and the other for armed robbery. Both were returned to prison. Dickie had at one time lived in the City of Marinette, where his parents owned a store.
Neville wrote: Sgt. Harbick was the pursuing officer who apprehended our escapees. In my opinion, Sgt. Harbick was particularly effective in investigating this crime, collecting, summarizing and communicating to me the evidence involved, and in simply responding to my numerous requests to him for assistance. He said after everything was presented, both escapees entered guilty pleas, and credited Harbicks work for achieving this result without the expense of a trial.
Harbick said the capture resulted from curiosity. He frequently checked out the White Potato Rapids area while on patrol, and one night became suspicious of two men with blankets over their heads. A car parked there had Illinois license plates. He had been seeing the vehicle at other unlikely places in the county over the past few days. Harbick asked for their address in Illinois and had the dispatcher check the plates. He found there was no address like the one they gave him, but the teletype to Illinois was down so he couldnt get the license plate information. Then their vehicle took off like a shot, with Harbick in hot pursuit. Road blocks were set up, and the fleeing vehicle, followed by Harbick, tore through Marinette and into Menominee. They were unable to make the curve by the Tourist Cabin just across the Interstate bridge and the escape vehicle crashed.
One of the men had a gun that had been stolen from the home of Pete Banaszak in Crivitz, but Harbick got the drop and held a pistol to his head until Captain Roger Lombard of the Marinette Police Department arrived to assist taking the two fugitives into custody. They were extradited to Idaho.
That wasnt quite the end of the story. Harbick said he received a call a week later informing him that Dickie had escaped and was coming back to Marinette to kill him. Dickie was recaptured before that could happen, and was sentenced to a new 15-year prison term, consecutive to the life sentence he was already serving.
In police work, there are things to be proud of, and things to be sad about, Harbick said.
A particularly sad, sad day for Harbick, and one he will surely never forget, came on Aug. 1, 1972, the day after his 30th birthday. He was patrolling on Bagley Road when he spotted a car with its lights on. There was a tube running from the tail pipe into the car, but the vehicle was no longer running. Inside he found the body of his own brother. He had found the vehicle too late to help. Calling that in and waiting for other responders was perhaps one of the hardest things he ever had to do.
In the late 1960s, while Harbick was still a relatively new officer, he started a new Sheriffs Department Dive Team. Dr. Thomas Thompson of UW-Marinette (now of Beaver Dam) was his original diving partner. There were no other members.
Their work expanded to winter dives and cold water rescue. The team grew with the gradual addition of officers Richard Lepkowski, James Allard, Jerry Jerue, Craig Bates and Michael Waugus. Harbick has a scrap book filled with photos and stories of searches, body and vehicle recoveries, and on some happy occasions, live rescues.
He eventually had to give up diving for health reasons.
In 1981, Harbick was named Huber Law officer for the Sheriffs Department. In 1982 he ran successfully for County Clerk, feeling it was time for a break from law enforcement. He served three terms as County Clerk, from 1983 to 1989. When his friend Sheriff Larson retired Harbick ran for the job and was elected. He held that post from 1989 until 1993.
In 1991, with help from Larson, Harbick had purchased the former Reinkes Restaurant, which was one of his hangouts as a teen. The restaurants name had been changed to Alice, but Harbick wanted a new one, and with input from the Marinette Chamber of Commerce dubbed the new venture Memories and decorated with 1950s and 1960s memorabilia.
In 1993, he left his Sheriffs job in favor of full time work at his new restaurant. He had already accumulated over 30 years of public service. He spent his days baking the restaurants famed homemade bread and making specialties like stuffed baked potatoes.
Along the way fire destroyed the building, but they were able to save much of the contents, including the cooking equipment and tables and chairs. Things could have been much, much worse. He rebuilt.
He sold the restaurant in 2004, and yielded to supporters who urged him to run for mayor. That run too was successful, and he has held the job since. However, after 47 years of public service in one role or another, he now decided to retire. He did not seek another term, and his tenure as mayor of the city he was born in will end in that same city at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, April 17. He extended good wishes to incoming Mayor Denise Ruleau.
One of his major regrets is the drunk driving ticket he received about 9 months ago. Im very embarrassed about it, but things happen, Harbick said. Ive learned a lesson the hard way...dont drink and drive, no matter how little you think youve had. He said the embarrassing video that accompanied the ticket wasnt entirely due to drinking. He had been on medication as well, and didnt realize the impact drinking along with it would have on his reactions and mental abilities.
Nevertheless, Harbick declared, It was fun. Ive enjoyed my life. Gods been very supportive of me. Ive been very lucky all my life. Over my years in police work, Ive seen a lot of death, but it makes me appreciate life more! I do love the City of Marinette. I dont want my name on anything. I just want the city to grow and prosper.
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