MICHIGAN CITY – When he was a boy, he dreamed about being a police officer, so it's only fitting that as he leaves the Michigan City Police Department after 38 years, some of Chris Yagelski's fondest memories are of interacting with community youth and training young officers.
Wednesday was the last day on the job for the sergeant, who has now moved to City Hall, where he will join Mayor Duane Parry's administrative staff to assist in the transition to a new administration.
The Michigan City native and 1979 Rogers High School graduate said being a police officer "was just something I always wanted to do, one of those children's stories about always knowing and then finally getting the chance."
And nearly four decades later, he said, "It's been a fantastic career, but now it is time to begin a new chapter."
Yagelski started as a patrolman, then moved up through the ranks to corporal and sergeant.
"Over the course of my career, I've done just about everything in the department," he said, "patrolman, detective, evidence technician, training officer, code enforcement" and for the last several years, a Division of Professional Standards training officer and public information officer for the department, a job he held for 14 years.
"I've been very, very fortunate," Yagelski said, "I got along well with everyone and I've had a good and successful career."
He said one of his favorites was working in the Warrant Division, a job he called "very exciting," and said he also enjoyed training young officers, hundreds during his time on the department.
Yagelski was also known for his ASK A COP column, which has appeared in The News-Dispatch for the last 14 years.
"That's been a high mark of my career. I came up with that idea and I did almost 400 columns. I enjoyed it and I appreciated the people who read and contributed to it. I've always embraced that."
But he said it was an "easy decision" when Parry "approached me and asked if I was interested. It seemed like a nice transition from the PD and into city government. It turned out to be good timing for the department and for me, and I can still help the city."
He said he had known Parry from his time as a Common Council member, but they just recently reconnected. "I humbly accepted the offer and will begin my new adventure."
Looking back over the last 38 years, Yagelski said "many moments and stories" stand out, including "events, presentations and interactions with members of the community that will always have a special place in my heart."
Among the most rewarding experiences were "the opportunity to train young, energetic officers; create and write “ASK A COP' columns, and work with criminal justice professionals and agencies."
And then there were those kids.
"I have enjoyed creating and working with some innovative programs such as the Easter Egg Hunt, Kiddie Parade, the Youth Academy and the Shop with Our Cops program," said Yagelski, who doesn't see the disconnect between the department and the community that was talked about by some candidates in the recent election.
He said programs like the Citizen’s Police Academy – which he "thoroughly loved creating and hosting over the last nine years, meeting and teaching citizens what it is like to be a police officer and the behind-the-scenes looks into our department" – have helped.
"I think the relationship between the community and department is good. We do a lot of community outreach ... and I think the community appreciates seeing the softer side of the police department."
Like with the rest of the MCPD, he said, "I hope that I have provided some measure of comfort to victims, survivors and families affected by tragedy, crime, scams and violence. I am so proud to have met and engaged so many members of our community."
He also said he didn't want to leave without offering thanks to all those who helped and supported him before and during his dream career.
That included his parents, Judith and the late Sylvester Yagelski; his late wife, Roxanne; his children Holly (and husband Josh Russell), and Joseph (and wife Melissa), both live in Westville, she a photographer and he a medical professional in cancer treatment; his grandchildren, Adam, Lydia and Claire; and his girlfriend, Heather Sommer, a surgical anesthesiologist at Franciscan Health Michigan City.
"I have an incredible family and I am proud of them," he said. Although – except for nephew Jason Yagelski, a police officer in Long Beach – "none of them had any interest in working in law enforcement, and my wife would not have let my children do it anyway. They all just help people in different ways.
"But they knew I loved what I did and they put up with a lot over the years."
He also wished to thank all the officers he's worked with over the years – and the community they served.
"I will truly miss police work," Yagelski said, "but feel fulfilled in my career as a Michigan City Police officer and will never forget all of my co-workers, friends and acquaintances throughout the years.
"And I thank all of the citizens of Michigan City – I met a lot of people during my time here, good friends who supported me through the years."