End of term doesn’t mean mayor will stop serving Elkhorn
At 61, the retired Elkhorn police chief is used to wearing many hats. He's a Vietnam veteran, former policeman, former alderman and currently works with education support at Elkhorn Middle School, running several study halls and helping out in the library.
He's wrapping up as mayor, but he's not ready to stop serving the community where he's been on the public spotlight for more than 31 years.
“I think one of my biggest enjoyments in life comes from working with people, no matter what category it's in,” Giese said. “It's just part of my life. I'm a people person.”
His devotion to helping people—whether as a cop, mayor or middle school educator—comes through.
During city council meetings, Giese weighs in when his input is needed and cracks a joke to lighten the mood.
At the middle school, he makes it a “nice place to work,” Secretary Sue Wesner said.
“John is always a pleasure to work with,” Wesner added. “He's fun.”
On a recent morning, Giese was watching a group of eighth-grade students during study hall. The students were calm and studious, perhaps because Giese warned them a Gazette reporter would be there. Still, they couldn't stop raving about their study hall leader.
“He's always fun, nice,” said Braden Man, 14. “He's pretty lenient, but if you're goofing around, he lays down the law.
“There's nothing really bad about him.”
Hannah Grobelny, 13, is in her third study hall year with Giese.
“He's honest and fun,” she said. “And he plays the bagpipes.
“He's even got a bagpipe tattoo.”
Giese started playing at 52, after admiring the instrument for many years but never getting around to trying one.
“I just always loved the sound, and I though if I could ever take lessons, I'd see if I could play,” he said. “If I could play 'Amazing Grace,” I'd be happy.”
Now, Giese's bagpipe rendition of the famous song is a staple at Elkhorn community events.
The mayor also belongs to two bands, Celtic Nations and the Greater Milwaukee Fire and Police Pipes and Drums.
Giese remains active in the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, where until June he will be serving as first district commander and as post commander.
While in Vietnam, he learned to care for others and made close friends. But it wasn't just smiles.
“I was shot when I was there,” he said. “I was on a helicopter, standing on the doorway. We had flown to pick up another marine.
“I was standing, shooting, and I got shot.”
The bullet perforated the right side of Giese's chest, sending him to a local hospital for five days and then to a U.S. naval hospital for six weeks. He recovered and was stationed in Illinois for 18 months.
It was after returning from war that Giese became interested in law enforcement. He was looking for life after the military, so he enrolled at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha and eventually started working as an Elkhorn patrol officer in 1971.
He was promoted to sergeant in 1974, lieutenant in 1979 and appointed chief in 1980. He served in that capacity for 22 years.
Though out of the force for a few years, Giese still considers himself a bit of a policeman.
“I think that kind of attitude never leaves you,” he said. “Once you're a police officer, you don't ever stop thinking like that. You always think of that kind of stuff.
“You see things what other people don't.”
Giese is looking forward to retiring from the public spotlight, though he has enjoyed his public life.
“It's just been an enjoyable experience as mayor,” he said. “I would recommend running for office to anyone who feels they can help their community.
“It takes a willingness to work, step up to the plate.”
And it takes an ability to handle criticism and public scrutiny.
“I'm pretty thick-skinned,” he said. “If it's a valid criticism, I'll take it and review and see what I can do to change. "If it's what I consider invalid, I'll accept it and go from there. I'll try to answer a person's criticism.
“Some people won't be happy, and that's the way it is.”
What’s he most proud of?
“I mean, you never really accomplish everything you set out to do,” he said. “Looking at the mayor's job from the outside is a lot simpler. When you get into it, it's a lot more complicated.
“You just don't have enough hours of the day.”