RACINE — The Racine community and the Racine Police Department have suffered another tragic loss with the death of Officer Jennifer Diener. She was a loving mother, wife and daughter.
Racine Police Chief Art Howell confirmed the death of Diener, 48, early Sunday morning. She died at about 11:20 p.m. Saturday at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa.
She was an organ donor, one final gesture of giving back to the community she loved serving.
Diener was seriously injured in the Feb. 9 crash on Highway 20 in western Racine County in which attorney Elizabeth Olszewski, 32, was killed. The two-vehicle collision west of 63rd Drive in Yorkville involved 10 people and left several seriously injured.
Diener, her husband, Brian, and 15-year-old daughter Taylor had just returned from a Colorado ski trip at Keystone Resort, said Jean Jacobson, Diener’s mother and a former Racine County executive.
They had stopped at Jacobson’s house to pick up their dog. The three of them were returning to their Yorkville home when the crash happened, Jacobson said.
“They were almost home, 2 minutes from home,” Jacobson said of the crash that left Brian with a broken vertebrae and Taylor with a concussion.
While complete details about the crash have not been released by authorities, the snowy, slick conditions that day are believed to have been a factor.
Dedicated to service, family
Diener, a Waterford High School graduate, grew up with public service. Jacobson is the Norway town chairwoman and served eight years as Racine County executive, retiring from the latter post in 2003.
Her father, Philip Jacobson, who died last September at age 87, served terms on the Norway Town Board and Norway Plan Commission.
“We are so proud of Jennifer,” Jacobson said. “Jennifer was married to Brian Diener and she is mother of Taylor, 15, a sophomore at Union Grove High School. Jennifer was a dedicated officer to the City of Racine and looking forward to retiring in less than two years.”
Diener enjoyed spending time with her family. In 2017, The Journal Times was invited to join her family at Waubeesee Lake in Town of Norway for an eclipse viewing party.
Diener talked about how she was able to kayak and hang out on the lake with family.
“The food was good. The dog didn’t freak out and the company was exceptional,” Diener said of the day she spent with four generations of her family, including her daughter, mother and grandmother.
Brian Diener said in a written statement: “The world lost one of its finest tonight. Jen Diener loved life, loved her daughter Taylor, husband, family, many friends, and co-workers. We will always remember Jen’s laugh, smile, and personality. Thank you for your prayers and support. Be sure to let those close to you know that you love them today.”
Time on the force
Diener had been a Racine police officer since 1995. She had a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a master’s degree from UW-Platteville, both in criminal justice.
She was hired on Feb. 28, 1995, along with her co-worker and close friend, Officer John Hetland, Chief Howell said.
Hetland, a 24-year veteran of the department, was killed when attempting to intervene in an armed robbery while off duty at Teezers Bar & Grill, 1936 Lathrop Ave., on June 17.
A photo published by The Journal Times on June 21 shows Officer Diener standing in front of the memorial set up for Hetland, her arm around another officer.
“The combined loss of two highly respected, veteran members of the department is significant; however, the loss to the respective families who mourn our fallen members is profoundly greater,” Howell said in a written statement.
Officer Diener’s service included, but was not limited to, the following areas of service: Crisis Intervention Team recruitment, team evidence technician, Accident Review Board member, mountain bike patrol officer, utility vehicle operator and laser operator.
In addition to departmental commendations and other awards, Officer Diener received the department’s Award of Excellence in 2011.
On her trading card that officers hand out to local youths, Diener quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.”
Last week, as news of Diener’s condition circulated, people around the community posted on social media a photo of Diener, smiling and standing in front of her squad car. It’s a photo her mother took last fall, after they went out for lunch in Racine.
“She asked me to take the photo after having lunch Downtown one day,” Jacobson said. “I went back to my car and prayed I would never have to use it for this kind of purpose.”
“The world lost one of its finest tonight. Jen Diener loved life, loved her daughter Taylor, husband, family, many friends, and co-workers. We will always remember Jen’s laugh, smile, and personality. Thank you for your prayers and support. Be sure to let those close to you know that you love them today.” Brian Diener, Jennifer Diener’s husband
"The world lost one of its finest tonight. Jen Diener loved life, loved her daughter Taylor, husband, family, many friends, and co-workers. We will always remember Jen’s laugh, smile, and personality. Thank you for your prayers and support. Be sure to let those close to you know that you love them today."
Brian Diener, Jennifer Diener's husband
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