Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Janelle Kendall is the lead singer and guitarist for Walter’s Wheelhouse, which performed at the Steele County Free Fair. Kendall grew up in Blooming Prairie and now is the top prosecutor in Stearns County.

Music gig provides relief for this prosecutor

For the past several years as the top prosecutor handling what will likely go down as one of the greatest crimes ever in Minnesota’s history, Janelle Kendall has needed a stress reliever more than ever. She has found one through a love of music and sharing that passion as the lead singer for a band.

For the record, Kendall is the Stearns County Attorney based in St. Cloud. She handled the Jacob Wetterling case and finally after nearly 30 years brought successful prosecution to Wetterling’s killer. 

In the past year or so, she has been dealing with the release of the Wetterling files. State law requires investigative documents to be released upon the conclusion of the case. The Wetterling family sued to stop Stearns County from releasing parts of the file. The family lost as a judge ruled that the documents must be released. 

Kendall was torn on the case. She wanted to do everything she could to protect the rights of victims, but she also had to comply with state law to release records, despite what the family wanted. “We found there is no way victims could be protected with state and federal laws being followed,” she said. She told me last week that the Wetterling case is finally closed and off her desk.

Kendall is familiar in Steele County as she grew up in Blooming Prairie and graduated as an Awesome Blossom in 1983. She was also a 4-H member for many years and has many fond memories of the Steele County Free Fair. 

In 2012, Kendall formed a band called Walter’s Wheelhouse. They perform gigs all over the state with the majority in northern Minnesota. She came back to perform on Wednesday night during the Steele County Fair. 

“It has been my escape,” Kendall confesses. “It gives you something different to do and something positive.”

As a prosecutor, Kendall sees “so many nasty things” that take place with human nature. Playing in the band also keeps her in check realizing that there are so many more good people out there than what she deals with during her day job. 

Kendall’s group plays music with a groove, including Sheryl Crow, Santana, Pat Benatar, Meghan Trainor, Jack Johnson, Guns N’ Roses and some Prince. They specialize in playing for fairs and other outdoor festivals. They also play at bars.

The group recently added a fiddler, which has allowed them to take on some country music. “We appeal to a different demographic,” Kendall says. “We’re a family band.”

She is honored and humbled to have been playing at Minnesota’s largest county fair for the past four years. Kendall said when she first started playing at the Steele fair in 2016, she got some cross-eyed looks from her family wondering about the significance of the fair. “You have no idea what a big deal this is,” she told her family. “It’s one of a kind in a good way.”

Kendall remembers back to her childhood when a big highlight was getting interviewed by Todd Hale of KRFO Radio about her flower exhibit. “I remember how nervous I was,” she said. 

“It’s always awesome,” Kendall says of the Steele fair. “How can it not be awesome? It’s the biggest fair ever.”

She said growing up that her family planned their entire summer around the fair. “We picked rocks and weeds so that we could save money to spend on mini-donuts,” Kendall said. 

Kendall admits it’s hard to escape her day job at times. During the Crossroads Mall terroristic attacks in St. Cloud in 2016, Kendall was performing a gig on her guitar when people came up to her asking what was going on at the mall. She went directly from playing to the mall to deal with 37 law enforcement agencies involved in the incident. “We don’t get to predict the day when things happen,” she said. 

While the top prosecutor will continue locking up criminals, she will never forget her roots and the love she developed at a young age for the Steele County Fair. 

Kendall will be in hot pursuit of decompressing from the stress of her day job by performing music at night.


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