Don Omodt, Hennepin County’s longest-serving sheriff, died Friday at the age of 89.
Omodt, a native of St. Paul who most recently lived in Minneapolis, served as sheriff of the state’s most populous county for seven consecutive terms, from 1967 to 1994, according to the Sheriff’s Office. At age 66, he considered running for an eighth term, but changed his mind at the last minute, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.
As the son of a St. Paul police detective, Omodt preached the importance of professionalism, and his rules sometimes earned him a reputation as a taskmaster among the rank and file.
“I insist on excellence and expect excellence,” he said in 1993, shortly after announcing his retirement. The motto “A public office is a public trust” guided his time in that role, according to a tribute written by his family.
Before his career with the Sheriff’s Office, Omodt served as in the Airborne division of the U.S. Army during World War II and Korean War eras. He worked as a special agent with the FBI and as an assistant Hennepin County attorney for seven years before running for sheriff in 1966.
During his 28-year tenure as sheriff, Omodt was also elected president of the National Sheriff’s Association, the Minnesota State Sheriff’s Association, the Metropolitan Sheriff’s Association and even the Hennepin County Chiefs of Police Association.
Many current employees of the Sheriff’s Office joined under his leadership, according to the department.
At his retirement party at Minneapolis City Hall, Omodt was praised by staff members for aggressively adopting new technology to aid law enforcement, including computer-assisted dispatching and computerized photo-imaging of such records as mug shots.
“Sheriff Omodt took a Midwestern country sheriff’s office and developed it into one of the most respected law enforcement offices in the country,” inspector Michael Postle told the Star Tribune in 1994. “He developed in us a sense of pride, trust, history.”
As a local history buff who wrote extensively about the state and county, Omodt occupied the vacant basement office area of City Hall to do research. Upon retirement, he worked to sort through nearly 100 boxes of sheriff-related files, some of which he planned to donate to historical archives.
Raised a devout Catholic, Omodt graduated from St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall in 1945 before attending the University of Minnesota. He earned his law degree at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul and completed training at the FBI National Academy.
Omodt taught constitutional law and police tactics at Normandale Community College, and according to his family, also quietly volunteered his time at area charities, helping found the Arc Greater Twin Cities to support people with developmental disabilities.
He was also interested in family genealogy, serving proudly as a member of Torskeklubben, a club celebrating shared Norwegian heritage.
Omodt and his wife, Helen Ann, were known for opening their south Minneapolis home to strangers, often welcoming foster children, foreign exchange students and travelers over the years, according to the obituary written by his family.
He was preceded in death by his wife, who died in 2007, and a daughter, Debbie. He is survived by children Sue, Chris, Steven, Tom, Paul, Amy and Mark; his sister, Nancy Krawczak of Mahtomedi, and 14 grandchildren.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady Grace Catholic Church in Edina.