Department History

By: Karen Mundy
Press News | Sandy & Beaver Canal Days Insert
August 9, 10 & 11, 2002

Updated with current staff members

Magnolia has always had the reputation of being a quiet, safe village to raise a family. That reputation may be the result of the town having a well-organized and solid police department.

Back in 1846, when the two villages of Downingville and Magnolia were incorporated, power was given to the mayor and the marshal to resolve all criminal actions, along with the help of the court systems of Carroll and Stark County.

Since those days, the village has grown in numbers and many changes have taken place. There have been several marshals and police chiefs who have kept peace in the village. There are various stories as to who was the first to lead the Magnolia Police Department. Many believe Nick Mihal was the first police chief. He was followed by either Eli Oleich, Lewie Farber or Carl McDonald. E. Joseph was also a town marshal for many years.

In 1960, John Sommer became chief of the Magnolia Police Department. He served for 31 years. During that time, he was chosen Sandy Valley Citizens of the year in 1975-76. He was also given the United States Gold Medals in 1986 and 1987 for winning the Pistol Combat Competition. In 1988, he won the International Law Enforcement Olympics in Australia, where he received one gold and three silver medals.

Upon Chief Sommer's retirement, David Bowling stepped into the post. While serving, he initiated the DARE program, using a state grant. As part of the program, Bowling went into the Sandy Valley Schools to help as a role model and to teach students to make responsible choices, especially when it came to drugs and alcohol. Michael Jones also worked as a DARE officer. Others who served with Chief Bowling were Paul Clayton and Jerry Nicholson. Gary L. Gardner was appointed to the position which he held for 10 years. The jurisdiction of Sandy Township was added during his tenure and the department grew to over ten officers. After Chief Gardner retired in 2007, Jeff Hager was appointed as Chief and is currently at the helm, serving a population of 4,500 people in the Village of Magnolia, The Village of East Sparta and Sandy Township (Stark County).

The department, at this time, maintains a patrol seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The department handles an average of 100 calls a month. This breaks down to about 50 complaints, 10 traffic crashes and several miscellaneous calls for service. Along with the above case load, the police department maintains traffic patrol and cites about 50 violators per month. The Magnolia Police Department normally carries on it's roster three full time officers and 11 part time officers. The department has been fortunate in constantly receiving grants to hire and maintain officers and increase patrol hours.

"We have not forgotten the tradition of the Magnolia Police Department and the individuals who have served as Magnolia Policeman in the past to help make the department what it is today."

In addition to Chief Jeff Hager  the current police department includes the following personnel; Captain Kyle Weygandt, Lt. Ryan Risher,Sgt. Gary Six, Sgt. Michael Balash, and Officers, Nick Marich, Chad Schlimm, Sarah Petit, Jarrod Goodnight, Ken Wholheter and Gavin Jones.

-A special 'Thank You' again to Karen Mundy and the Press News for permission to post this well written and well researched article on the Magnolia Police Department

The following is a speech given by Magnolia Mayor Robert Leech on August 10th, 2002 at the Sandy & Beaver Canal Days Festival. The speech was for a presentation of a Certificate Of Appreciation given by the Village of Magnolia to the Magnolia Police Department.


In the early days of Magnolia, keeping the peace was entrusted to a part-time town marshal or constable. Some of the earliest were Nick Mihal, Emmett 'Skinny Joe' Joseph, William Joseph, Louis Farber, Ernest Linard, Bob McDonald, Eli Oleich, Lou Chaddocker, Charlie Kemp and Joseph Foster. Louis Farber, marshal in the late 1930's, was the last marshal elected by ballot. Following that the police department was established, with Nick Mihal being the first appointed police chief.

The original jail was a small outbuilding with barred windows believed to have been on Harrison Street. This building is now demolished. The next jail was on Brady Street. It has been converted to a home. Following that, a holding cell was used in the Town Hall. Prisoners are no longer housed in Magnolia.

In 1960 John Sommer became chief of the Magnolia Police Department, serving for 31 years. He won United States gold medals in Pistol Combat competition and in 1988 won the International Law Enforcement Olympics in Australia. Upon his retirement, David Bowling took over as chief. Bowling initiated the DARE program, using a state grant. This provided an officer to work in the school system, to serve as a role model and to teach children about drugs and alcohol. Also serving with Bowling were Paul Cayton and Jerry Nicholson.

Todays officers respond to an average of 100 calls per month. We are all aware of the risks they take to ensure our safety, and for their hard work and dedication we present them with this Certificate Of Appreciation.

-Very special 'Thank You' to Paula Tolin of the Magnolia Area Historical Society for providing the above transcript of Mayor Leach's speech and for all the valuable work she and the Historical Society do for the Village of Magnolia.