Goodbye Commissioner Krehbiel: A look back at his decades of public service

By Blake Spurney

With the passing of the new year, the 20-year career of long-time politician and public servant, Ron Krehbiel, came to an end.

Krehbiel, who’s been battling health issues in recent months, could not be reached for comment, but others who worked with him during a long career in public service provided insight about a man of the people representing the western part of the county.

“Well, he’s pretty gruff,” said former county administrator John Waltner about his first impression of Krehbiel. “His exterior is pretty gruff, but in a lot of ways, he’s just a big teddy bear. He copped all his life and he’s really a sensitive guy. He cares a lot about people. I found him to be really a good commissioner with whom to work.”

Krehbiel started his career in Pueblo, Colo. Waltner related a story told by Krehbiel about arresting former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Apparently, Krehbiel got called to a disturbance at a bar in a rough part of town. Waltner said he couldn’t remember the details because he was laughing so hard. Somehow, Krehbiel was able to place Liston in handcuffs.

“He talked Sonny Liston into going along with him is what it came down to,” Waltner said.

Former sheriff Byron Motter said Krehbiel served as undersheriff for Galen Morford. Krehbiel was working as a deputy for Norman Walker when Motter joined the department in 1976. Motter continued to work with Krehbiel when he became sheriff in 1991.

“Ron would do anything he could to help somebody,” Motter said. “When things got tough, you wanted Ron as your back up. He wasn’t scared of anything. Ron was one of those: he would not shy away from any type of trouble.”

Krehbiel kept his finger on the pulse of what mattered to residents in his district. He did that by going to farm sales and coffee shops.

“I think he knew practically everyone in his district by first name,” Waltner said. “That’s probably a little bit of an exaggeration, but he talked to people and they talked to him.”

Commissioner George “Chip” Westfall said Krehbiel would take on the cause if any of the residents in his district had a bonafide issue. The quality of roads in his district was an ongoing concern of his.

“He was the dying breed of old school,” Westfall said. “There’s not very many left. He did one-on-one political issues with people. Now it’s you toe the party line and do what the party tells you to do.”

Westfall said he was lucky in that he got to work with Krehbiel twice. Westfall was serving as patrol supervisor in the region for the Kansas Highway Patrol while Krehbiel was a deputy. They reunited as colleagues when Westfall was elected to the Harvey County Commission.

Westfall said Krehbiel left the department to work for Hesston Corp. back in the day, because it was a higher paying job. He said Krehbiel returned to public service because he had law enforcement in his blood.

Waltner said he used to work with Ron’s wife, Nancy, when he taught at Burrton years ago. He, too, got to reconnect an old friendship when he became a county employee in 2009.

“I really appreciated it,” he said. “She’s a really good person.”

Waltner said Krehbiel was instrumental in helping the county adopt a more equitable salary structure.

“Ron absolutely stood up for employees during that thing,” Waltner said. “It was hard to do, but it was a big step for the county. He was well aware there were people working for the county that weren’t paid very well, but he was very supportive of it.”

Motter said he couldn’t recall receiving any complaints about Krehbiel from residents because he knew how to handle people, even in difficult situations.

“He just became friends with a lot of people and he respected people,” he said. “He dedicated all his life to the citizens of Harvey County.”

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