Nearly 100 people gathered in the Loleta fire station this afternoon for a sign dedication for a highway sign recognizing Rich Schlesiger, a longtime member of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office who died in 2015 after a battle with brain cancer.
The sign, now posted near the Hookton Road exit on southbound U.S. Highway 101, began with a simple phone call from Schlesiger’s widow Morgan to 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn.
“Morgan called me up and said, ‘What do you think of this?’ ” Bohn said this afternoon. “I said, ‘Let’s make a call’ “
And he did. Three years later — a pace Bohn called “the speed of government” — the sign is installed.
A bill in 2017 by North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) recognizes the portion near Loleta, where Rich Schlesiger was raised, as the Rich Schlesiger Memorial Highway.
Wood could not attend today’s event, with the Legislature in session, Bohn said.
“It was his privilege to work with you and the Legislature to make this happen,” Wood’s Eureka field representative Erin Dunn said.
A replica of the sign was unwrapped by Morgan Schlesiger and the couple’s three children this afternoon.
“I think Rich would be equally honored and mortified by this,” Morgan Schlesiger said of the sign.
She said the sign is a good way for the family to remember him.
“He had a pretty big impact on the law enforcement community,” she said. “It’s pretty special for him to be remembered this way.”
Rich Schlesiger was with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office for 22 years. Much of that time he spent working in the detective bureau, often working on homicide cases.
“I know he’s gonna come down every two to three weeks and wax the signs,” Bohn joked. “That’s who he was.”
Past and present Humboldt County sheriff’s shared memories of working with Rich Schlesiger.
“He was the best investigator this county ever had,” Sheriff William Honsal said. “The guy knew everyone, knew how to work a case. Nobody can stand up to him.”
But he added that it was his personality that will be remembered.
“I think he’s going to be known for what a big heart he had,” he said.
Former Sheriff Mike Downey said knowing the dedication was coming up “forced me to think about Rich and the kind of man he was.”
“His humor can’t be eclipsed,” Downey said. “There’s jokes I can’t tell (here).”
But he did share one story that showed Rich Schlesiger’s humorous side. Downey said he would needle Rich Schlesiger about being bald by calling him “cue ball” when he passed his office.
“He’d look at my head and say, ‘Mine’s by choice,’ ” Downey said.
Ryan Schlesiger, Rich’s brother, said having the sign dedication at the fire station was appropriate because it was so close to where the two of them grew up.
He called the sign “a great honor” for the family.
Brad Mettam, Caltrans District 1’s deputy director, noted that Rich Schlesiger was a standout individual.
“A lot of us meet in the dead of night, in the rain,” he said of law enforcement and state officials working scenes of incidents. “It takes a courage and commitment was saw in Rich to do those things.”
Bohn recalled Rich Schlesiger as “a man’s man and a cop’s cop.”
He said the sign will be there for generations to come and be a good reminder of who Rich Schlesiger was.
“It’s something the kids will see the rest of their lives,” he said. “He was a good dude.”
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.