Faith, Flexibility and Forethought: Alumnus Phillip Riegle ’00 Stays Close to Roots
This story is part of a series following University of Findlay alumni who have gone on to have meaningful lives and productive careers right here in the local Findlay community. Their stories provide a glimpse of the difference UF students and graduates make in the lives and businesses of our immediate area, and of the impact a UF education can have right here at home.
When he was a small boy, Phillip Riegle ’00 had a clear plan for the trajectory of his life. It was a future born of summer afternoons and evenings in Forest, OH listening to the Detroit Tigers play baseball. “I wanted to be [late Tigers radio announcer] Ernie Harwell. That was what I had planned,” Riegle said.
Unfortunately for Riegle, his dreams of being the Detroit voice of baseball didn’t ever fully land, but it wouldn’t be the only career expectation to morph into something different. What was baseball’s loss is Findlay’s gain, however, as what Riegle did end up becoming is the Hancock County prosecutor, a line of work he didn’t see coming as a young man, and not just because of his aspirations for radio.
After graduating from Riverdale High School, Riegle chose University of Findlay after the typical perusing of colleges that many high school seniors take part in. In the mid-90s, UF had a tuition adjustment program that focused on potential students from area high schools. “I looked at a couple of other schools, but I really liked Findlay’s campus, and the financial help was certainly good,” Riegle said. On his official visit to UF, Riegle remembered, he met with the man who would become his adviser, former religion professor and UF Distinguished Alumnus Dr. Richard Kern, and, while they sat and discussed academic plans, Dr. Kern said something that, upon looking back, was somewhat prophetic for Riegle’s life and career. “I told him that I wanted to be a teacher and do some coaching,” Riegle said. “And Dr. Kern said, ‘I don’t believe you’ll be teaching long.’” As UF’s professors and advisors often do, Kern was seemingly using his well-known observational skills to take note of Riegle’s strengths; to that end, he saw Riegle in law school down the road.
Riegle, himself, however, wasn’t quite there yet. He landed on UF’s campus as a comprehensive social studies education major, and was perfectly content with that path and his college of choice. His brother, Kevin ‘02, was already an Oiler, running track as a student-athlete at UF, and Riegle said that commuting to college was a “really good experience,” as he “was a part of students in free enterprise, went to basketball and football games. It was a great four years.”
Upon graduation, he got a teaching job at his alma mater, Riverdale, teaching history and government classes. “I enjoyed it, but I was definitely feeling a pull,” Riegle said. “And then, at around the middle of the school year, my mom said, ‘I really wish you’d take the law exam.’” So, for the second time within five years, Riegle was perhaps serendipitously being pointed in the direction of a career in law. It was hard to deny.
As he ended up studying and subsequently scoring well on the entrance exam, Riegle was accepted into the Toledo School of Law, and set in motion for himself the path which would lead him to even more twists and turns in the career path he’d envisioned. After internships and working as an assistant prosecutor for three years directly out of law school, Riegle said that he again felt a pull, this time toward political horizons. “I talked to the chair of the republican party and got some direction toward the county commissioner position. I always wanted to stick around this area, so I figured I’d give it a shot,” he said.
And not only did he give it a shot, in 2007, Riegle, at 28 years old, became the youngest commissioner in the history of Hancock County. Then he ran again in 2010 and won. Then again in 2014.
And then in 2016, the county prosecutor of that time became a municipal judge and Riegle got the appointment to finish his term. He now, after running and winning for the full term, continues to work with seven assistant prosecutors, the police, sheriffs, and others to be a voice for victims and defenders of justice in the local area.
Riegle, whose UF legacy also includes another brother, Ryan ‘05, who became an Oiler after his siblings, feels that both UF and the Hancock County community have much to be proud of. “UF, and in my specific case, the political science department, had me very well-prepared with the different skills necessary for law school,” he explained. “I was taught to think critically and learn how to succeed in both school and as an attorney.” And to be able to practice his profession in the local community, which he hails for its faith-base, solid work ethic and business-friendly climate, is something that Riegle cherishes. “I never had plans of leaving the area. I have such deep roots. My family came to Hancock County from a land grant for service in the war of 1812. This is where I’ll continue to be.”
From the youthful dreams of radio fame to those of a productive career and a meaningful life – his family includes wife, Tracy, and children Justin, 22, twin eight-year old daughters, Grace and Leah, and Caroline, who is three – Phillip Riegle has been the essence of what it takes to be a successful UF student and alumnus: faith, flexibility, and forethought.