Thursday, July 7, 2016

Beneath the badge beats a caring heart

By Joan Hadac
Editor and Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post

Three years ago, I wrote about several Chicago Police officers who saw a family in need; and instead of playing it by the book, they chose to "play it by the heart."

I wrote that the officers' kindness and generosity shows that "behind a typical police officer's badge beats a strong and compassionate heart." (A link to that story is here.)

Today, I am privileged to share another example of a Chicago Police officer who has played it by the heart, this time for the kids at Hubbard High School, 62nd and Hamlin.

Officer John Catanzara has been a school officer at Hubbard since late 2013. He has built, mostly at his own expense, a 3,200-gallon koi pond in the small atrium space between wings of the school.

The pond was dedicated on Thursday, June 30—not coincidentally, the 15th anniversary of
Officer Brian T. Strouse
the death of Officer Brian T. Strouse, gunned down by a gang member in the Pilsen neighborhood. The pond was dedicated to honor the memory of Strouse.

Years before, Strouse and Catanzara had been classmates in the police academy.

“He was a good man, and a lot of us will never forget him,” Catanzara said. “At the academy, he was our class commander and an excellent leader. He had a very level approach to everything, and he built bridges between groups of people. He led, but he never dictated.”

The square pond currently is home to 11 koi, with another on the way. It includes a gently-sloping waterfall, an old Navy diver’s helmet as an accent, and more.

The atrium space serves as a place of relaxation and reflection for Hubbard seniors, although Catanzara said he hopes to work with the school to find a way to give underclassmen some access to the area.

Student interest in the new pond was evident at the dedication. While dozens of police officers and other invited guests stood in the atrium at the event, clusters of curious Hubbard students smiled and jostled each other for space at second-floor windows to get a glimpse of the unveiling.

The new pond replaces a smaller one that had been there for years. Catanzara took the lead on dismantling the old pond nearly two years ago. Construction began in earnest in March 2015, with completion this spring.

“It wasn’t an overnight thing,” Catanzara recalled. “There were times when we had doubters who’d look at it and ask, ‘What the hell’s that pit out there?’” Along the way, he spent several thousand dollars out of pocket to make it happen.

“This is important to me,” he said. “I wanted to do something for the kids here. Most them don’t have something like this at home. Hey, I don’t, either. I live in a condo. I tell the kids that this is my backyard.”

Catanzara’s efforts were praised at the dedication by a number of people, including Strouse’s sister, Kathy, CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson, and others.

“His dedication and effort to the students of Hubbard and the memory of his friend are admirable,” said CPD Sgt. Steven Martin, Catanzara's immediate supervisor. “In addition to this endeavor, he volunteered to be the girls’ cross-country coach when they had none. He also travelled with the ROTC to compete in the national drill competition in Nashville. He is a role model and an active participant in assisting the school, the students and the community.”

Hubbard Principal Nancy Wiley said the school is “fortunate to have two wonderful school officers in the building. They go out of their way to help the students, regularly.”

“I want my students to know how important our police officers are and that they do a dangerous job every day,” she said “With all the negativity about police officers in the news these days, I think this pond helps send a positive message to our kids that police officers are their friends.”

So there you have it. With no public acclaim, no press conference, nothing like that—Officer Catanzara has quietly built a beautiful koi pond so that students can have a peaceful place to relax, reflect and take a break from the stress of daily life.

And in an age when rich folks often use their charitable donations to stroke their own egos and name things after themselves, Officer Catanzara named the pond to honor someone else—a man who deserves to be honored and remembered by all, Officer Brian T. Strouse.

Catanzara's good deed would have gone unnoticed by most, but fortunately, another policeman--Sergeant Martin--tipped us off. Thank you, Sergeant.

Catanzara’s act is yet another example of how—when it comes to the vast majority of police officers—beneath the badge beats a strong and compassionate heart.

Well done, Officer. And thanks.

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