Thursday, February 06, 2014
HADLEY — Hadley Police Chief Dennis J. Hukowicz, who died Sunday after being on sick leave since November, made a commitment to law enforcement and retained an appreciation for his hometown, according to those who knew him.
“He is somebody who loved Hadley,” said Ralph “Buddy” Gould, campus police chief at Mount Holyoke, Smith and Hampshire colleges, who spent more than 20 years working alongside Hukowicz in Hadley.
“He knew people inside and out,” Gould said. “He was dedicated to serving the town.”
Hukowicz, 61, had been the town’s full-time police chief since 1993 and a member of the force for nearly 39 years prior to going on leave. The Select Board in December appointed Sgt. Damion Shanley as acting police chief for three months.
“I think it’s a tremendous loss for the town,” said former Select Board member Gerry Devine. For the past six weeks, Devine said, he had been visiting Hukowicz once a week.
“He was a personal friend of mine and I will miss him terribly,” Devine said.
Devine said Hukowicz always did his best to bring in a police budget that met the needs of the department while being responsible to the taxpayers.
“He was even-keeled on everything, level-headed and brought that attitude to being chief,” Devine said.
Tom O’Connor, a retired Amherst police officer who lived in Hadley for many years, said Hukowicz should be remembered for doing a lot with a small department. Like Gould, O’Connor said he will remember Hukowicz’s passion for the community in which he lived his entire life. “He loved the town of Hadley,” O’Connor said.
Gould said that for many years Hukowicz led the department in a substandard police station, housed in an 80-year-old barn on West Street, and withstood low staffing levels.
In the mid 1990s, the department moved into a new public safety complex on East Street, which Hukowicz championed and which gave the department a more professional setting.
Like many in Hadley, Hukowicz was passionate about farming, in recent years operating Hukowicz Farm Suffolks, where he and his wife, Janet, and their son, Andrew, raised sheep, goats, cattle and llamas. The sheep were displayed at local shows such as the Three County Fair and The Big E. Hukowicz would also take time off from his job as chief to visit fairs in Kentucky, where he would purchase more sheep for the farm.
Inside his office, photos and paintings of sheep hung on the walls. At one time he had a coffee mug with a smiling sheep on it.
Even though Hukowicz was raised and educated in Hadley, he didn’t grow up on a farm. His father, Edward, owned and operated the Hadley Grain & Coal Co. until his retirement in 1985, and his mother, Wanda, was a rural carrier for the post office for nearly two decades before she retired in 1982.
Gould said he remembers Hukowicz working at the police station until midnight and then planning to be in the fields to harvest sweet corn at 4 a.m. Many of these fields still have crops, including soybeans, with some being rented to other farmers.
Some in the law enforcement community will remember Hukowicz as one who gave new officers a chance.
“He gave me a lot of opportunities over the course of my career,” Gould said.
Barry O’Connor, a Hadley native who is now a South Hadley police officer, credits Hukowicz with giving him his start. In 2001, Hukowicz sponsored O’Connor for full-time police academy, the first time a future Hadley officer had this opportunity.
“I’m pretty grateful for that to get my start in law enforcement,” O’Connor said. “I always appreciated what he did for me.”
Not everyone saw eye to eye with Hukowicz. In 2009, town officials hired Waltham consulting firm BadgeQuest to study the department. The firm’s report indicated a lack of communication between Hukowicz and some officers, and included allegations that he showed favoritism toward farmers and that some officers felt there was a perception that the department was a joke.
Hukowicz disputed the contents of the report, calling it unfair and saying it prejudged the department.
Barry O’Connor said many will appreciate Hukowicz’s legacy. “He’s probably going to be missed by a lot of people in town,” O’Connor said.
Devine said residents he spoke with during his tenure on the Select Board indicated they were satisfied with the chief’s responsiveness to issues such as speeding.
“While Hadley is not a small town, he brought the perspective of understanding these values,” Devine said.