Photos By Hillary Ehlen & NDSU Athletics
Heith Janke saw a lot of things he won’t forget when he worked for the FBI. The former Bison track and field national champion and Bison Athletic Hall of Famer gained valuable experience as a special agent. But after moving all around the country since graduating from NDSU in 1999, Janke decided it was time to return his family to Fargo. In the summer of 2017, Janke was named the West Fargo police chief.
- Bison Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2014
- National champion in the 800-meter run (1998)
- Four-time NCAA Division II All-American
- Two-time North Central Conference indoor champion in the mile (1996, 1997)
- Three NCC indoor championship 3,200-meter relay teams
(1996, 1997, 1998)
- NCC outdoor 1,500-meter champion (1998)
- Two NCC outdoor championship 1,600-meter relay teams
Janke grew up in Madison, South Dakota, and graduated high school in 1994. Less than an hour from Brookings, he verbally committed to South Dakota State after winning eight track and field state championships and two cross country state championships. Janke decided to take a last-minute visit to North Dakota State, a decision that would alter the rest of his life.
Don Larson was the head coach of the men’s track and field team, a position he still holds today. Larson is a Madison native and graduated high school with Janke’s parents.
“When I visited, I immediately changed my mind of not going to SDSU because of the overall track program here was nonstop winning conference championships every year,” Janke said. “They had a great indoor facility at the time. It was a no-brainer to go away from SDSU and become a Bison.”
Janke went on to win several North Central Conference championships and was a four-time NCAA Division II All-American. In 1998, he won the national championship in the 800-meter run, edging out a conference foe down the final stretch to win by five-hundredths of a second – 1:48.51 to 1:48.56. His accomplishments earned him an induction into the school’s hall of fame in 2014.
“The relationships you build are something you never forget about. Still, to this day, my best friends are my teammates on the track team.”
“My overall reflection of my time at NDSU is the teammates,” Janke said. “You make those friends that you keep the rest of your life. You’re in there seven days a week training and competing. The relationships you build are something you never forget about. Still, to this day, my best friends are my teammates on the track team. Plus, winning the national championship was also a highlight. That was a very cool experience.”
Perhaps most importantly for Janke, he met his future wife while at NDSU. Brenna Stefonowicz spent a lot of time in the old Bison Sports Arena as well. She was a member of NDSU’s 1996 Division II women’s basketball national championship team.
The two later married and have two kids, Max, 14, and Reese, 11.
Around The Country And Back
After graduating from NDSU in 1999, and then from the University of North Dakota Law School, Janke was an attorney in Sioux Falls from 2002-2004. His work as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation began in 2004 in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2008, work moved him to San Antonio, Texas, then to the FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., from 2011-12 after being elevated to a supervisory special agent. Janke returned to Kansas City with the same title.
He held that job for several years but decided one more move for his family would be for the best. In the summer of 2017, Janke was named the West Fargo police chief.
“It was a wild ride,” Janke said. “I got to be a part of some incredible cases, some investigations and really see some horrible things that are out there. But it gave me a ton of experience to bring back to West Fargo. All along the way, I learned something new from different cultures and everything involved in moving across the country. It gave me a lot of experience that I was happy to get, but more importantly, happy to bring back here.”
Returning to the Fargo-Moorhead area wasn’t always on the mind of Janke. But the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“When we first started moving, we never really knew,” he said. “Once you start moving around the country, you realize the importance of family. Raising your kids in a good city with good schools and how important that is. Selfishly, continuing to go in that career would have been great, but it has a big impact on the family of never being around family and continually moving your kids in and out of schools. It was a no-brainer coming back here.”
Keeping Up With The Bison
Even while he lived in different corners of the United States, Janke continued to follow the track and field program along with the national success of the men’s basketball and football teams. He made trips to Frisco, Texas, for the national championship games along with seeing the FBS upsets against Iowa and Kansas State.
The track and field program continues to dominate. The men’s team has won eight straight Summit League outdoor titles dating back to 2010. The women’s program has won 10 straight titles in both the indoor and outdoor seasons since 2008.
“When they first made the jump (to Division I), it scared me,” Janke said. “I wasn’t sure. But the way the coaches are, the way they recruit quality athletes and make them better, (the continued success) doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Janke says it’s good to be back in Fargo and to return to his roots. Thanks to his experience at NDSU, he felt prepared for his line of work.
“Leadership is a huge thing with athletics,” Janke said. “What I learned starting as an underclassman and then becoming a leader on the team propelled me throughout my entire career. Especially on the track team, you learn how to compete individually, but the greater good is always the team winning in the end. It’s similar in law enforcement. Under coach Larson, I learned a whole lot about leadership.”