BELLEVUE, Iowa — About 200 local and state law enforcement officials were among more than 500 mourners gathered Saturday to pay their respects to an Anamosa police officer.
Mitchell R. Kelchen, 40, of Bellevue, died in a head-on crash Sept. 2 on Iowa 62 north of Andrew. The crash also severely injured his wife, Tina, and the other driver.
His funeral was held Saturday morning at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bellevue — one day after his birthday.
Days before the service, Tina talked about the outpouring of support she and her family have received from law enforcement.
“You knew that every day when he walked out the door, you could trust them to have Mitch’s back and send him back home to us,” she said. “Now, they’re still showing support, and they’re grieving right alongside us.”
The Manchester native was one of seven officers of the Anamosa Police Department, but he was not on duty at the time of the crash. Authorities said Marjorie L. Hendrickson, 60, of Bellevue, was northbound on Iowa 62 south of 167th Street at about 7:40 p.m. Sept. 2 when her vehicle crossed the center line and struck a vehicle driven by Tina Kelchen.
Mitch Kelchen also worked part time for the Bellevue and Sabula police departments before becoming a full-time officer in 2010 in Cascade. He then moved to the Dyersville Police Department before joining Anamosa.
A ‘great guy’
Tina Kelchen said she met her husband about 20 years ago at a mutual friend’s party in Dyersville. His outgoing and bubbly personality immediately attracted her to him.
“We’re both completely opposite people,” she said. “He brought out the best in me, and vice versa.”
She said Mitch was a very happy-go-lucky guy who could cheer up anyone and who would drop everything to help anybody.
“If you meet him once, you’re never going to forget him,” she said. “He just truly enjoyed life.”
The couple married in 1997 and had lived in the same house in Bellevue ever since, raising four children together. She said Mitch worked in garage-door installation for several years before he also took steps to realize his dream to become a police officer.
Bellevue Assistant Police Chief Dennis Schroeder said Kelchen was hired as a reserve officer in 2009 before he became a part-time officer.
Schroeder also spent a lot of time with the Kelchen family outside of work, as two of their daughters are best friends. He said Mitch Kelchen was a devoted friend, husband and father.
“He was just an all-around great guy,” he said.
‘Nose’ for crime
Bellevue Police Chief Lynn Schwager said he was always impressed by the thoroughness and professionalism Mitch displayed.
“When Mitch was given an assignment, you could guarantee it would get completed and completed well,” Schwager said.
Dubuque County Sheriff Joe Kennedy and Cascade Police Chief Fred Heim offered similar praise of Kelchen’s dedication to his duties. Heim recalled hiring Kelchen in the fall of 2010.
“He came to talk to me, and I saw a little bit of fire in him and thought maybe we need to give him a shot,” Heim said.
In his 2½ years with the Cascade department, Heim said, Kelchen seemed to have a “nose” for finding more serious criminal situations. He recalled Kelchen stopping a vehicle for an equipment violation and an ensuing search found six handguns inside.
Another time, Heim said, Kelchen was called to assist a stalled vehicle but saw it pull away as he arrived. Kelchen followed it to a gas station, to see if the occupants needed help.
Then, he saw something odd.
“He called me and said when the driver got out, it looked like ‘Cheech and Chong’ with smoke rolling out,” Heim said, noting a pound of marijuana was seized from the vehicle.
Kennedy, who worked as a K-9 deputy and a drug recognition expert with the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department before being elected sheriff, said Kelchen frequently kept him busy with drug investigations.
“He hawked those guys,” Kennedy said. “He was very effective in that role.”
Kennedy also remembered Kelchen’s sense of humor, saying he liked to joke around and pull pranks.
“He was a good guy to work with, and he’s going to be missed,” Kennedy said.
The law enforcement officers who came to Saturday’s Mass joined almost 300 citizens inside St. Joseph church. More residents lined the route taken by the funeral procession after the service.
Kelchen was escorted by nearly 100 law enforcement squad vehicles to the cemetery, where he was laid to rest.
“This show of solidarity for a fellow officer speaks highly of your commitment to each other and to your calling,” Deacon Robert Wood said during Mass.
Schroeder said the size of the law enforcement turnout was “unbelievably overwhelming.”
He also praised Bellevue citizens for rallying around the Kelchen family.
“That’s one good thing about a small community — everybody comes together as one big family,” he said.
Tina Kelchen also was thankful for all of the support her family has received since the crash. Community members built a wheelchair ramp at her home for her return from medical treatment in Iowa City.
“There will be a recovery ahead, and with the support I know I have, it just feels overwhelming,” she said. “So many people have helped us.”