John E. Magnuson, 1946-2013: Sheriff proud of holding on to his workers


SANDUSKY — John E. Magnuson, a five-term Erie County sheriff who oversaw construction of a jail and took pride in a work force with low turnover, died Thursday in Stein Hospice, Sandusky. He was 66.

He’d been in a coma after developing a serious infection several days ago, said Mike Myers, who was the presenter in January as Mr. Magnuson was inducted into the Norwalk St. Paul High School Hall of Fame.

“He was pretty reserved, but I know he enjoyed it,” Mr. Myers said. “He and I have been friends since junior high. He was my best friend. He was a friend to everybody.”

Mr. Magnuson did not seek re-election as sheriff in 2000 and retired at the end of his fifth term. During his last campaign, in 1996, he touted his role in the county 911 emergency system, a new jail in the late 1980s that replaced an antiquated facility — and in having a stable, well-paid work force.

And he had patience, said Paul Sigsworth, Erie County sheriff since June, 2012, who rose through the ranks under Mr. Magnuson.

“He was well respected throughout the community and was really a humanitarian,” Sheriff Sigsworth said. “You have to take care of your employees and take care of prisoners in the jail and take care of the community. That’s what I learned from him.

“He served the community well during his tenure as sheriff.”

They first met when the Mr. Sigsworth took a criminal justice class at Lorain County Community College in 1980. Mr. Magnuson, then in his first campaign for sheriff, was the instructor.

“He always wanted the class to engage in discussion,” Sheriff Sigsworth said. “He was very pro-education for law enforcement and stressed college education.”

Mr. Magnuson was born Dec. 1, 1946, to Marian and Ed Magnuson. He grew up in Norwalk and, at St. Paul High School, was on the basketball and track teams. He played tackle on the football team starting in his sophomore year — an undefeated season. He was president of his junior and senior classes and graduated in 1965.

He was an Army veteran and served in Vietnam. He received an associate’s degree in law enforcement from Lorain County Community College and a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Youngstown State University.

He became a Perkins Township police officer in 1970 and an Erie County sheriff’s deputy in 1972. About a year later, he learned that he had multiple sclerosis. He was open about his condition as he used aids to his mobility — from a cane to a walker to a wheelchair. In his 1996 re-election campaign, he replied firmly when some residents questioned his physical ability to carry out his duties. He noted that he’d been able to manage 68 full-time workers and a $4.2-million budget and to negotiate with five unions.

“I’ve never hidden from this,” he told The Blade in 1996. “I’ll tell you I felt sorry for myself for about five minutes when they first told me I had [multiple sclerosis].”

He filled home and office with mementos and tokens of his dedication to the Cleveland Indians and was known to have attended more than 25 consecutive home opening day games.

He was a member of Ss. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church, Sandusky, and of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, Norwalk, Mr. Myers said.

Surviving is a brother, Eric Magnuson.

Arrangements are pending at the David F. Koch Funeral Home, Sandusky.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.