RACINE — Racine Police Chief Art Howell and former Chief Art Muhlke share multiple connections spanning many decades, they’ve come to learn.
In addition to sharing the same first name and title, the chiefs also have a common connection to Muhlke’s step-grandson, Bill Buhler, president and general manager of ButterBuds, a Racine food ingredient company.
Through somewhat of a chance encounter in Chicago, both Howell and Buhler learned some history and came away with respect and appreciation for one another.
In June, Buhler organized a trip for local leaders to watch an experimental transcendental meditation program in action at a Chicago school. Howell took part in the trip and ended up sitting next to Buhler during lunch. Buhler has been a meditation advocate since the 1970s.
“You’re the second Art that I’ve known as chief of police,” Buhler told Howell during that break.
And from there, they launched into a conversation about Buhler’s step-grandfather, Art Muhlke, who was Racine police chief from 1938-1948 and worked for the department for years prior. Buhler mentioned a photo he had of Muhlke and his fellow motorcycle officers, which Howell thought would fit perfectly in the new museum in the police station lobby at 730 Center St. Buhler subsequently presented a framed copy of the photo to Deputy Chief William Macemon, the museum’s curator.
While there had long been a display case in the police station lobby that included some artifacts, including the machine gun John Dillinger used to rob a Downtown Racine bank, the extended museum made its debut in May, after Howell decided the lobby was too cold and unwelcoming.
While the department’s six Community Oriented Policing houses, spread through the community, were designed to welcome visitors, Howell said the police station did not have the same feel. And he wanted to change that.
The museum consists of a series of glass cases below the main stairwell that contain information and objects related to the department’s past. The cases are sponsored by different entities and individuals in the community, including ButterBuds and SC Johnson. It includes a display of various police vehicles from the past and the lie detector machine that the department formerly used to test recruits. There is also an example of the corner call boxes that police used to communicate with the station in the early to mid 20th century. As all of the department’s historical artifacts can’t fit in the cases at the same time, they are displayed on a rotating basis. Howell plans to add Buhler’s photo to the lineup.
“If you come into the building you can see how this organization has evolved and how it’s grown and how it’s community-friendly,” Howell said. “I think the new lobby is more reflective of the organizational culture than the institutional, cold marble walls.”
Howell also believes the museum is beneficial to his officers, so that they can see how the department has progressed over the years.
Buhler knew Muhlke when the former chief was probably in his 70s, Buhler estimated. Muhlke married Buhler’s grandmother, Amanda Buhler, after both of their spouses had died. Buhler remembers Muhlke taking him and his cousins on fishing trips to northern Wisconsin and Canada. But his encounter with Howell inspired him to do some research about the man. He soon headed to the library to read old newspaper clippings about the former chief.
“I learned a bunch of stuff about Grandpa Muhlke that he didn’t tell us about,” Buhler said.
Buhler discovered photos of Muhlke as a young man. He got to see the motorcycle Muhlke rode during his police career and learned about the challenges the former chief faced.
“I feel very blessed by these circumstances that have brought this man’s life and memory back to me in a detail and clarity I never could have imagined,” Buhler said. “It opened to me a perspective of the times he lived in, of our community, and of the challenges he faced”
These challenges included dealing with a lack of officers during World War II, and organized crime and corruption.
Muhlke started work for the department in 1919, driving the police ambulance. While working as a sergeant, he established the traffic beureau’s record system. He also created the first of a series of training schools for police. Muhlke seemed particularly concerned about safety.
“This concern was not only with regard to the traffic situation with the quickly changing scene as more and more automobiles were owned and driven, but also to see that the motor vehicles of the Police Department received proper maintenance,” Buhler said.
He was also interested in supporting youth, including the Boy Scouts.
Buhler believes that the two Arts share many similarities.
“I knew Art Muhlke over a period of years, and his integrity was evident to me in the things he said and did,” Buhler said. “I am not surprised to find it confirmed in his record with the Police Department. Chief Art Howell and I are just beginning our acquaintance, but the record of his accomplishments — and his persona — clearly illustrate this quality as well. Chief Art Howell’s integrity is immediately evident to anyone who meets him. You just look in his eyes, and there it is.”
Howell said he was impressed when he learned of Buhler’s law enforcement connection. This allowed him to relate and feel a sense of kinship and connection to Buhler.
“I’m a big proponent of community policing and I think it’s great that in this particular community there’s no shortage of people like the Buhlers and others who want to support public safety through supporting the Police Department whether it’s through TM (transcendental meditation) or whether it’s through supporting the museum,” Howell said. “It’s just great to have community partners that want to basically work in collaboration with law enforcement to keep the community safe.”