Holyoke Heroes have served the city well

Published Wednesday, October 3, 2007 in the Holyoke Plus section in The Republican. Go to www.masslive.com for more interesting stories.

Michel Shine was born in County Kerry, Ireland in 1845. He was appointed to the Holyoke Police department in 1869 and served the community for 40 years retiring in 1909. Known as the oldest policeman on duty in the state and all of New England at the time. He was a much-loved officer who patrolled the city with a jovial disposition who would rather help criminals change their poor behavior than arrest them.

In 1882, William E. Blackmer was busy working in the E. Perkins market on Main Street when a local politician asked him, "Hey, Billy how would you like to be a cop?" Believing the man was just kidding, he said he would like to.

Within a few weeks he was congratulated on his new job. Perplexed, Blackmer went to Mayor Delaney where he expressed his apprehension. The Mayor reassured him that he would be a good policeman, asking him to think carefully about the appointment. After a month of considerable reflection he finally accepted the position. Blackmer faithfully served the city for 38 years and was promoted to lieutenant on October 24, 1923. He was an exceptional officer, known to be judicious with a great sense of humor.

In 1903, Edward F. Gilday was appointed to the Holyoke Police Department. On December 22, 1913 he was promoted to "inspector," for his outstanding police work.

On a cold, snowy night on February 17, 1924 a homicide occurred on Grover St. A taxi driver told officer Gilday that he had seen a man that fit his description in Ludlow. After conducting a long and miserable stakeout, Gilday and officer Pete Manning found the suspect in a Ludlow home under the kitchen floor. His composed and restrained manner, using force only when needed, helped convict the fugitive who served a three to five year sentence in a state prison for manslaughter. At one time he served as a fireman, on a pro-baseball team and as the Assistant Marshal. He was still using the stairs in the City Hall annex when he was 68 years old, according to records in the Holyoke History room at Holyoke Community College.

Not every officer was so fortunate as these prominent gentlemen were. On April 23, 1922, officer John P. Driscoll was injured when he fell from the running board of his police car in pursuit of an intoxicated driver. He went into a coma and eventually passed away two days later, leaving a wife and five children, according to the Holyoke Police Department’s Web site-www.holyokepd.org.

On January 1, 1977, James Gatzounas died after being assaulted at a New Year’s party as he attempted to arrest an unruly suspect. As a result of being kicked and punched, he went into cardiac arrest. He was only 29 years old and left behind a wife and a child.

Then finally on December 22, 1999, veteran of 21 years, John A. DiNapoli who was on an administrative assignment volunteered to backup officers when a disturbance occurred on a street corner. He followed the suspect who was on foot in an unmarked cruiser when the suspect turned and fired multiple shots. After being severely injured he was transported to a hospital where he passed away a short time later. The suspect is now serving a life sentence with no chance of parole. He left behind two grown children and his beloved finance, Carol Bevan-Bogart who sent me one of her heart-wrenching poems called Valentine from Heaven.

My life companion has blue, blue eyes,
In a face like Paul Newman’s.
Tanned feet descended from Neapolitans
Who trudged the dusty roads of Sicily
Searching for a better life.
He has a quick wit, a smile that crinkles up
The corners of his eyes---like little wings.
He has his wings now.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day.
I know that he’s strutting around heaven
Like a celestial rooster
Showing off his new appendages.
He whispers softly in my ear.
"I was right," he says,
"You were wrong—
there is a heaven after all
and I am waiting."

Courageous and steadfast, these proud officers gallantly served the department. Whether quelling a disturbance or rescuing a dog as patrolmen Stephen McCormick, John J. O’Neill and Lt. Richard M. Smith did in 1962, from a second level canal which they were awarded a certificate of merit by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Every officer has an important duty to perform and a unique perspective to share. They all have their own special style of policing and continue to create distinctive strategies to help fight crime today. One thing is apparent; the professional staff at the Holyoke Police Department has served the citizens of Holyoke well since 1850.

© 2007 The Republican. All rights reserved. Used with permission