Locals mourn for death of police lieutenant

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Albert Lea Police Department Lt. Phil Bartusek, who died Monday after a long struggle with cancer, will be remembered in the community as a role model, a caring citizen, a top-notch police officer, and a loving father and husband.

Besides his work in the Police Department as a pioneer for curbing tobacco and alcohol use among teenagers, Phil was involved in numerous community organizations such as Albert Lea School District, Albert Lea Education Foundation, St. Theodore’s Catholic Church, Bayside Ski Club, Festival of Bands, House of Hope and the Albert Lea Family Y. He ran for the office of Freeborn County sheriff in 2002.

Many who knew him say they will remember his loving smile, kind eyes and willingness to give.

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The Bartuseks moved to Albert Lea in 1982. Mary grew up in New Richland, Phil in New Prague. They now have two grown daughters, Erin and Emily.

In 2007, the lieutenant began battling lung cancer and at one point seemed nearly victorious. The disease, however, came back and struck other areas of his body. He was not a smoker.

His funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Theodore Catholic Church in Albert Lea. Visitation is from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday. Bonnerup Funeral Service is handling the arrangements.

The following are somememories and responses about Phil submitted Tuesday by city leaders:

“Lt. Phil Bartusek was truly a great man. He was a family man first of all, he loved his family with all of his heart and it showed. There was a sparkle in the eyes of each member of the Bartusek family. He was a trusted public servant. His passion to serve was emulated in whatever he was involved with, whether his calling as a peace officer or volunteering for a worthy cause, he shined brightly. He was a man of principle and nothing shook him, he was not one to be drawn into the politics of life or work, what he did was based on the integrity of the inner compass of his life.

“He was a man of faith and was not ashamed to speak of his faith. His faith was not in man but in God, and that was evident in the conversations we had together. He was determined to not let this foe of cancer conquer him, and in the end, he did in fact win, because of his faith he was more than a conqueror. When I think of Lt. Bartusek, I think of the words of the Apostle Paul… ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my race, I have kept the faith!’

“I will miss this very great man — he was always an inspiration to me.”

— Third Ward Councilor George Marin

“I first met Phil in the early ’80s. I was working as bartender at a bar called Billey’s across the street from the law enforcement center. He was one of the officers who had answered the call about a bar fight. It was pretty much over by the time the police arrived, but the thing I remember about Phil was how positive he was and how he treated everyone fair even among all the chaos. I got to know him pretty well through the bar and the softball fields. The team he played on was made up of officers, deputies, ambulance drivers and medical workers. They played in the same league as the bar team I played on.

“As I recall Phil was not only very competitive but was a very good ball player and sport. A few years later I was fortunate enough to play a couple of years on the same team as Phil. He always took the time to ask how things were going and that smile that he wore like a beacon of friendship each and every time I saw him. Phil was a fair man in all my dealings with him.

“I remember one night after the bar closed I was invited to a party. I was there about 45 minutes when the police arrived to tell us to turn the music down; Phil was one of the officers who responded. He saw me there and took the time to come over just to say a few words. I stayed at the party maybe a couple more hours and headed home. I was about one-fourth mile from my house when red lights in my rearview mirror appeared. When Phil came to the window and saw that it was me, there came that smile again. Knowing that I was at that party earlier, he could given me a ticket for something, but asked me where I was headed. I told him home and he told me to go straight home. I got out of the bar business and hadn’t seem him until he called me one day and asked if I would be interested in playing ball on the same team.

“Over the years every time I ran into him, he would always take the time to say hi and ask how things were going. When I got elected to the City Council the first time, I saw Phil. He went out of his way to come over to talk with me and congratulate me. Every time I hear Phil’s name, all that comes to me is that big smile and his friendly eyes, the windows to a very warm, caring, fair and soulful man.

“Phil, I will truly miss running into you, but I will never forget you.”

— Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker

“Phil was one of the members composing my interview board originally pursuing the Albert Lea Police Department. Freshly out of college and eager to gain employment, I fielded questions from various members of the interview board. When it came to Phil’s question, he informed me that police officers face many stressors throughout their career; he posed what do I do to relieve stress.

“Well, at the time I had plenty of time on my hands, so I was playing softball three times a week back home in St. Peter. So my answer to Phil was I enjoy motorcycling and playing softball. Phil, immediately stated, ‘You play softball? What position?’ The rest is history. I was immediately hired and was able to play a couple fundraising games of softball with Phil throughout the years.”

— Albert Lea Police Lt. J.D. Carlson

“I’ve known Phil in a number of roles including a member of St. Theodore’s Church, as a police officer, as a fellow member of the Bayside Ski Team, and as a father and husband. In all, I know there are many examples of Phil doing things he didn’t have to do. One I’ll remember, and take as a personal example, is helping kids learn to water ski. When he was active in the club, on his afternoons off from work, he would drive a boat for an extra practice session for kids who wanted extra time on the water. He would also keep the boats fueled and ready for the teams’ regular evening practices and shows. As a family, we enjoy taking kids out and teaching them to ski, and I have to give Phil credit for giving me this example.”

— Albert Lea Mayor-elect Mike Murtaugh

Additional memories of Phil’s life can be sent to sarah.stultz@albertleatribune.com.