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Rodney Kunath recalls history of Northampton police 

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Rodney Kunath poses with his favorite police uniform outside his home Friday. Kunath, 71, has an extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums.

    JOSH KUCKENS
    Rodney Kunath poses with his favorite police uniform outside his home Friday. Kunath, 71, has an extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Rodney Kunath showcases his extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums in his Northampton home Friday.

    JOSH KUCKENS
    Rodney Kunath showcases his extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums in his Northampton home Friday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Rodney Kunath showcases his extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums in his Northampton home Friday.

    JOSH KUCKENS
    Rodney Kunath showcases his extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums in his Northampton home Friday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Rodney Kunath showcases his extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums in his Northampton home Friday.

    JOSH KUCKENS
    Rodney Kunath showcases his extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums in his Northampton home Friday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Rodney Kunath buttons up his favorite police uniform outside his home Friday. Kunath, 71, has an extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums.

    JOSH KUCKENS
    Rodney Kunath buttons up his favorite police uniform outside his home Friday. Kunath, 71, has an extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Glass bird baths are as pretty as they are practical. (Courtesy Kathy Van Mullekom/MCT)<br/><br/>

    Glass bird baths are as pretty as they are practical. (Courtesy Kathy Van Mullekom/MCT)

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Rodney Kunath poses with his favorite police uniform outside his home Friday. Kunath, 71, has an extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums.
  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Rodney Kunath showcases his extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums in his Northampton home Friday.
  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Rodney Kunath showcases his extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums in his Northampton home Friday.
  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Rodney Kunath showcases his extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums in his Northampton home Friday.
  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Rodney Kunath buttons up his favorite police uniform outside his home Friday. Kunath, 71, has an extensive collection of Northampton Police Department memorabilia, calendars, scrapbooks and photo albums.
  • Glass bird baths are as pretty as they are practical. (Courtesy Kathy Van Mullekom/MCT)<br/><br/>

— Reed Street resident Rodney Kunath usually has a dining room table. But on an afternoon earlier this month, it was a shrine.

The table was covered with police memorabilia, mostly from the Northampton Police Department, which he has regarded with worshipful adoration since he arrived in the city in 1946 as a 5-year-old student at the Clarke School for the Deaf.

Kunath, now 71, has a collection that includes scrapbooks of newspaper articles about the department, albums filled with the black and white photographs he took of former police officers and long-gone police stations, and boxes of police badges and patches. While showing his collection to a Gazette reporter Dec. 7, he playfully brandished a small, worn billy club that was given to him by the late George Bernier, police chief when Kunath first visited the first Northampton Police Station in the early 1950s.

“It took me days to find it,” Kunath said of the collection spread out on the table. “These are my memories.”

The longtime fan of the city’s Police Department is especially excited now because the department is hosting a grand opening celebration Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the new Police Station at 29 Center Street. It is the third police station the city has had in his lifetime, and his favorite.

“I have visited the new police station and I must tell you that it is the best police station in Northampton,” he said. “It’s perfect.”

Kunath is probably one of few city residents who can really appreciate the journey the city’s police department has been on to get to the $17.6 million, 31,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art police station that was completed this year. He can remember his first visit as a youngster to the aging police station of the 1950s — a former schoolhouse that was over 100 years old at the time — as well as his excitement upon seeing the recently demolished station when it was first built in 1965.

His interest in the Northampton police was not a passing fancy. For nearly 60 years, he has regularly visited the station, befriending the officers and serving as the department’s unofficial historian, teaching even the longtime officers about the history of force, including the police stations it has inhabited.

Northampton Police Capt. Scott Savino said he has photographs of all three police stations displayed in his office in the new building, all gifts from Kunath.

“We’ve been friends for over 20 years,” Savino said. “He visits often, he emails, he’s always bringing us photos.”

He has been snapping pictures for his collection since he was a boy, so he has provided the department with the historic photographs and detailed descriptions that have been used in the Police Association fundraising calendars for years. He also used to volunteer to photograph the now discontinued Police Association balls.

“If we could deputize him, we would,” Savino said.

A boyhood in the city

Kunath was 18 months old when he lost 70 percent of his hearing after an ear infection in 1943. He traces his admiration for police back to growing up in Needham, where his father was a captain in the Needham Auxiliary Police. He recalled playing in the empty jail cells at the station while his father met with the police chief.

“I told my mother I wanted to be a policeman, but my mother said I couldn’t be a policeman because I was deaf. I was so disappointed,” he said, drawing a finger down his cheek to indicate the tears he remembered crying.

In 1945, his parents enrolled the 5-year-old Kunath at the Clarke School, where he lived in the dormitories until he graduated in 1958 at age 16.

While a student in Northampton, he continued to be interested in police work, so he befriended officers on the street, including officer Neil Doyle, badge number 3. “He was our favorite policeman on State, Main and South streets as he was so friendly and greeted us with his white gloved hands,” he said.

During his teenage years, he and other students were allowed to go downtown for “shopping, haircuts and ice cream,” and that’s when he began visiting the old police station.

With its muddy front lawn, broken sign and old-fashioned chain-flushing toilets, it was a far cry from the then-modern police station he had known in Needham.

The building was built as a schoolhouse in 1843, and the Police Department moved there in 1917, according to Kunath’s records. Among those records are annual town reports dating back to 1946, which include then police chief Bernier’s reports that his department badly needed a new facility. His complaints ranged from a leaky roof to old toilets that did not flush properly, causing the station to be filled with “an obnoxious odor.”

Kunath joined the campaign, writing a letter to the editor published in the May 31, 1963, Gazette, enumerating the building’s shortcomings and calling for a new station.

“It was finally about time when they got the new 1965 one-story police building,” Kunath said.

By that time, Kunath had graduated and was living back in Needham, doing bookkeeping at his family’s Mansbrooke Rainwear Company. But he still felt like Northampton was his second home, and he visited his friends at the police stationhouse frequently.

He moved to Northampton in 1985, and at that time, the police station that had seemed so nice in 1965 did not seem sufficient anymore, Kunath said.

He recalled a 1986 visit when then chief Daniel L. Labato told him the 12,000-square-foot space was too small for the growing department, and Kunath suggested they could add a second floor.

“The engineer who inspected the one floor building found that the 1965 fragile frames were not strong enough for a second floor, so that’s why we needed a new and third police station, which we have now, happily,” he said.

Not surprisingly, Kunath said he voted for the $10 million debt exclusion override in 2010 for the new station, which is built on the same spot as the original schoolhouse station. Construction began in November 2010, and the department moved in in July.

“It’s so appealing and beautiful,” he said of the station. “The second floor has really nice captain and the chief offices, and looking around in the new station, it has the first elevator” in the department’s history.

In addition to more space, the new building also includes modern technology such as computerized fingerprint collection system, a computer forensics lab that can enhance photos and energy-efficient features.

“I assume this final and permanent station will last for many decades to come,” he said.

Kunath is mostly retired, although he still works a few shifts each week in the Environmental Department at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. He has already visited the station a few times, but is looking forward to getting an official tour Saturday.

“I am extremely excited for open house and to see the smiling faces of the police officers,” he said. “And, of course, I’ll be snapping more pictures.”

He also hopes that the new station will generate more interest in the Police Department’s history.

“It is important for the people to know the history of the Northampton Police, because when I grew up, they didn’t know the histories,” he said. “I had to depend on reading a couple of old Northampton books and annual reports for my learning.”

Savino said officers are also looking forward to sharing a different side of the department at the event — the side that Kunath sees, but maybe others do not.

“A lot of times when people deal with police, they’ve been a victim or it’s some other bad situation,” he said. “So it’s nice to have something like this, it’s a happy occasion.”

Kunath will be one of the happiest visitors, he said, his camera flashing as he captures the significant day in the department’s history to add to his collection. He may not have been a police officer, as he wished as a boy, but he certainly has a place at the department.

“It’s nice to have your number one supporter out there,” Savino said. “It makes it worthwhile.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

Related

Public invited to open house Saturday at new $17.6 million Northampton police station

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — The 18-year quest to replace the former police building built in 1965 on Center Street comes to fruition with a grand opening celebration and tour for the public Saturday. Celebrations begin at 11 a.m. with a grand opening ceremony, followed by tours of the facility until 2 p.m. Construction on the new $17.6 million facility, which includes a … 0

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