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Exchange Club honors ‘selfless leader’ as OPD Officer of the Year

police officer of the year, travis ardolf, owatonna, moonlighters
Police Officer of the Year Travis Ardolf accepts his award from Moonlighters Exchange Club president Annette Duncan. The club hosted their annual event last week at the Owatonna VFW Club. Staff photo by Joni Hubred
Joni Hubred, News Editor

An Owatonna Police Department detective who played a key role in a 2023 murder investigation has been named the city’s Police Officer of the Year.

Travis Ardolf was honored May 9 during a banquet hosted by the Moonlighter’s Exchange Club and held at the Owatonna VFW. Along with his award, the former Steele County Corrections officer received a proclamation from Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz.

Keynote speaker Sgt. Ben Johnson described Ardolf’s style of policing as a “grinder” who keeps digging when others have stopped.

“The supervisors he works for, they tell him what to do, and he does it,” Johnson said. “It’s done. Consider it done.”

Police Chief Jeff Mundale said Ardolf has been with OPD for 10 years, selected to serve as a field training officer and use of force instructor before being selected to the Detective Bureau in 2020, through a competitive process.

“He is a selfless leader, and puts others first, Mundale said. “He holds himself to a high standard of courtesy and professionalism, with his goal to share what he has learned to improve the organization and those around him… When we celebrate wins, Travis remains humble by nature and he’d be the first to point out and give credit to others on the team.”

Ardolf, he added, brings calm to a situation, has a strong work ethic, and is meticulous in his work.

Often called to investigate difficult cases, he played “a critical role” in an investigation into the May 30, 2023, murder of Sabrina Schnoor. The suspect, Jason Horner, was arrested just days later and is facing trial on second degree murder and firearm possession charges.

Mundale said Ardolf discovered “convincing evidence” to link the suspect to the scene, then conducted interviews with suspects. He also worked last summer on investigations into two shootings and linked the suspect in one to a similar shooting in Martin County.

“His knowledge, skills, and abilities are worth their weight in gold,” Mundale said.

Ardolf said he nominated one of his own partners for the award, which he said shows how hard the decision the Exchange Club had in choosing an honoree.

“We’ve had nothing but support in the Owatonna community,” he said. “You make it more enjoyable to come here, and you make it easier to come here day after day and make this a career.”

He also recognized the sacrifices of family members and singled out the department’s administrative staff for recognition, saying they are the “real true backbone” of the Law Enforcement Center.

“They keep us sane,” he said. “They do more work in the community than citizens really recognize.”

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