New O'Brien County Sheriff continues long legacy of service

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal
O'Brien County Sheriff Allen Schuknecht is shown in front of the O'Brien County Law Enforcement Center in Primghar. Schuknecht, sworn in as sheriff on Sept. 1, has been with the department for 40-years, the past 15 as chief Deputy.

PRIMGHAR, Iowa | When O'Brien County Sheriff Michael Anderson retired from office Aug. 31, he left behind a legacy. And a hard act to follow.

At the time of his retirement, Anderson had spent 42 years in the department, 41 of them as sheriff. That made him Iowa's longest-tenured active sheriff and the fifth longest-tenured sheriff in the nation. Anderson had won nine of his 10 elections with no opponent on the ballot.

Two weeks after Anderson's retirement, O'Brien County officials say the transition has been a smooth one. Much of that is due to his successor, Allen Schuknecht, whose appointment follows four decades of service in the department.

"Allen's taking over and being here as long as he has is why it's going so good," said Chief Deputy Bruce Devereaux. "That's worth a fortune."

Schuknecht, 61, has deep O'Brien County roots. He was raised on a farm near the unincorporated O'Brien County community of Germantown and attended school in Paullina. Following his graduation in 1972, Schuknecht immediately enrolled at Western Iowa Tech Community College to study law enforcement.

"I guess I was always interested in it early on," Schuknecht said. "I think it was exciting - there's always something different all the time. I get along well with people, and it's a people profession."

Schuknecht graduated from WIT in 1974 with an associate's degree in police science. He immediately joined the Sanborn, Iowa, Police Department, where he served for two years.

Anderson hired Schuknecht to the O'Brien County Sheriff's Office in December 1976, a month after Anderson won his first election to office. Anderson had been appointed as sheriff in 1975 when previous O'Brien County Sheriff George Sleeper stepped down after nine years in the position.

Schuknecht said his early years on the department were much different than they are today. The staff was smaller, and the department operated without a communications center.

"We all had phones in our houses, and when they called the sheriff, they'd ring the phones in our house," he said.

Schuknecht said the wives of deputies would then contact deputies by radio to inform them of the calls. Since Schuknecht was single at the time, one of the other deputy's wives helped out in contacting him.

The department soon added a communications center. And more innovations followed.

Schuknecht said Anderson, who did web design on the side, served as a valuable bridge for the department into the more technologically demanding 21st century. Anderson built the department's first website.

“He was very progressive," Schuknecht said.

Shucknecht said his appointment in September, after four decades of service, was rewarding. He said taking the oath of office was a poignant moment for him.

“It was pretty cool to step into the next step,” Schuknecht said. “It was also emotional.”

Devereaux, who worked with both Anderson and Schuknecht for 26 years, said along with being a capable sheriff, Schuknecht is a fun person to be around.

"As bad as I am at telling jokes, Allen is probably the best joke teller I know," he said. "He's got a great sense of humor."

As a lifer in O'Brien County, Schuknecht said what's kept him around so long is an easy question to answer: It's the people.

"It's the everyday contact with the people that I've enjoyed," Schuknecht said. "They're appreciative. ... We've been invited to church services where they've supported us, and it's really gratifying."

Schuknecht said he isn’t making any radical changes to the department, since he has been involved with its direction for several years.

However, he said a few new emphases moving forward will include working with the county's new Emergency Management director and scheduling more drills for local departments will be areas of focus moving forward.

Schuknecht, a Republican, is up for election in November but faces no Democratic opponent. Schuknecht defeated Republican opponent Todd Wood, a Sheldon police officer, 80 percent to 20 percent in June's primary elections. If elected, Schuknecht will serve another four years in the position.

Shuknecht currently lives with his wife, Janelle, who he met in high school and married in 1979. They have three grown children.