The sheriff who avoided politics

HOUGHTON – For the people who knew him, Jim Ruotsala was a quiet man who honestly spoke his mind and wouldn’t play politics, despite holding the political position of Houghton County Sheriff.

Ruotsala died April 10 at Marquette General Hospital after heart by-pass surgery. He was 68 years old. A burial service for family and close friends was conducted Tuesday.

According to Ruotsala’s wife, Judith, he was elected sheriff the first time in 1980, and was re-elected several times before retiring in 1995 before the end of his last term.

“He was there many years before that,” she said.

Ruotsala started at the Houghton County Sheriff’s Office in 1967, Judith said. During that year, he was also a mail carrier in Hancock, where they were living at the time.

“He worked seven days a week,” she said.

One of his first jobs with the sheriff’s office was as a marine patrolman, Judith said.

Judith said Ruotsala very much enjoyed being sheriff, but he wanted nothing to do with the politics which often comes with the position.

“When he ran, he said he was no politician,” she said.

Keith Jenich, who served on the Houghton County Sheriff’s Office with Ruotsala, agreed he was an honest person who spoke his mind.

Because they were the same age, Jenich said he felt a connection with Ruotsala as soon as he started at the sheriff’s office.

“He actually hired me,” he said. “We got along real well.”

Jenich said Ruotsala handled the responsibility of maintaining order in Houghton County very well.

“All the weight (was) on his shoulders,” he said.

Jenich said one of the more interesting circumstances at the sheriff’s office during Ruotsala’s tenure occurred in the early 1990s when there were five alleged murderers in the jail at the same time.

“It was quite a hectic time at the department,” Jenich said.

Jenich said Ruotsala had few problems with the deputies and other staff with the sheriff’s office.

“He got along very well,” he said. “If there was a problem, it was (corrected and) forgotten, and we moved on.”

Ruotsala didn’t seek attention as sheriff, but just did his job the best way he could.

“Jim was a very quiet man,” he said.

Judith said Ruotsala walked for exercise regularly for 18 years, and ate healthily, so his heart problems were a surprise to family and friends.

Ruotsala was a good husband, father and grandfather, Judith said.

“I told him I liked him just the way he was,” she said.