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Published: Thursday, 4/21/2011

Earl L. 'Red' Rife, 1919-2011: Wood County sheriff became U.S. marshal

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN -- Earl L. "Red" Rife, a former Wood County sheriff who became a U.S. marshal and held other public offices, died Wednesday of renal failure in Wood County Hospital. He was 91.

Mr. Rife's kidneys shut down in December, and since then he had undergone dialysis three days a week for four hours at a time, his daughter, Diane Goebel, said.

"It was tough on him," she said, and he decided to stop the treatments.

Mr. Rife, a Republican, served three, four-year terms as sheriff, was director of the county Juvenile Court and Detention Center for four years, and clerk of courts for four years. President Ronald Reagan appointed him U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Ohio in 1982, an office he filled until 1989, when he retired.

"You couldn't count on a more solid citizen or a more dedicated public servant," U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) said. "I knew him my entire life."

Bowling Green attorney Mike Marsh, a former county GOP chairman, said Mr. Rife, despite his Republican credentials, was not a partisan person "for his time and era.

"I'd call him more of a Wood County person," Mr. Marsh said. "He was involved in a lot of things. He was a good example for people in that he lived a selfless life."

Mr. Rife acquired a taste for police work and law enforcement during World War II, during which he served as an Army Air Force MP at Randolph Field, Texas, near San Antonio.

Returning to Wood County after the war, he applied for a vacancy at the sheriff's department and was hired to be one of four deputies serving at the time.

Fifteen years later, as a seasoned deputy and chief deputy, he ran for the office of sheriff himself and defeated Democrat Leo Boyd, a car salesman. During his term in office, his wife, Palma, was jail matron, preparing meals for the inmates.

During Mr. Rife's tenure, the sheriff's office became the second in Ohio to sign contracts to provide police protection for local communities. The communities were Perrysburg and Lake townships, both of which went on to form their own police departments.

Sheriff Rife's department also participated with Indiana and Michigan agencies in a three-state crime information center that included Toledo police and the Lucas County Sheriff.

Only once in his law enforcement career did Mr. Rife draw his weapon.

"It may have saved me because a Rossford youth was pointing a rifle at me," he told The Blade in 1989.

After finishing his third term as sheriff, Mr. Rife spent four years as director of the juvenile court center and four years as clerk of courts, a post he left in 1980.

As U.S. Marshal, he oversaw 44 counties in northern Ohio. Over the years, he served on security details for Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Richard Nixon.

Mr. Rife was born in Luckey, Ohio, the third of Minnie and George Rife's six children. He was president of his senior class at the former Luckey High School. He and Palma lived in Bowling Green and celebrated their 70th anniversary in November.

He was longtime member of Grace Lutheran Church, Luckey, and belonged to the Troy-Webster American Legion Post 240 and the Buckeye Sheriff's Association. He delivered meals for Wood County Hospital's Wheeled Meals program and the Bowling Green Senior Center.

Surviving are his wife, Palma, daughter, Diane Goebel, sons, Alan and Terry, sister, Virginia McClain, brothers, George and Keith, and six grandchildren.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Marsh Funeral Home, Luckey, where visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday.

The family suggests memorial tributes to Grace Lutheran Church, the American Heart Association, or the Kidney Foundation.

Contact Carl Ryan at carlryan@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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