On Saturday, Nov. 4, Festival Hall held my favorite event of the year.
No, it wasn’t Post Prom or Pancake Day or the pops orchestra (however, I am already counting down the days for all three), but the fourth annual Racine Policeman’s Ball. The event holds a dear place in my heart; I’ve attended all four, volunteering to work check-in at three, and I always adore seeing locals dressed to the hilt as they make their grand entrance through the doors.
I enjoy the six-piece band, the catered five-star dinner, the auction items (I took home a Marilyn Monroe signature one year!), the yummy little cheesecakes and chocolate fountain, and even the hilarity of the photo booth. But the best part? Funds raised go 100 percent to the Racine Police Department (the K9 unit and human trafficking prevention in particular).
The local police force is special to me. So special, I don’t call them police officers. Instead: PEACE officers. It’s very peculiar how those I know in the force happen to be the kindest, most caring, gentle, humble, servant-hearted people I know in all of Racine. And trust me, I know quite a few people in town.
Peace Chief Art Howell, who joined me and my mom in the photo booth wearing a plastic crown and making hilarious faces, has become one of my family’s dear friends. It all started when my father bid on “Lunch with the Chief” at the second annual Policeman’s Ball. For that lunch we met him at his suggestion of Olde Madrid Downtown. Since then, he has become a fixture in our lives: we see first-hand his passion to cater to the community, particularly those who can’t cater back to him, such as inner-city children. He’s got a laugh that can’t be matched in the whole county, and a joy about him that transcends reality.
Also at the second annual event, I happened to bid on a tour of the Downtown jail with Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, and I giddily won. He showed me an inside look on the jail and how neatly it’s kept. He explained how he had the jail repainted bright, happy colors, and how they use encouraging programs for the inmates to overcome addiction and other struggles. We even enjoyed the “jail food” for lunch, which wasn’t as terrible as you’d think.
My high school swim and dive coach, Dave Arvai, is a K9 officer and dear family friend. In fact, we both competed in the 2013 Racine 70.3 Ironman, and I DID pass him on the run (I heard “not you, Paige!”). Back when he coached me, he traveled to Texas for a significant amount of time training to learn the ins and outs of being a K9 officer, and I remember him being thrilled to benefit the community with a four-legged officer by his side. The swim/dive team met “Titan,” and we saw how proud Dave was for the new program.
My stories could fill up every page of the paper you’re holding. From Officer James Pettis, who served with me on the Safe Haven board of directors and his jolly, charitable demeanor; to Officer Andy Gelden of Caledonia, one of my close friends from childhood who recently rang my parent’s doorbell late at night to suggest they close their garage door “just to be safe, Weslaski family!” Officers Chad Andersen, father-and-son Officers Rick (II) and Rick (III) Toeller, Officer Oertel of Mount Pleasant, retired Officer Liertz, Tony Lacombe and Tommy Sharrett are all wonderful friends of mine as well, keeping our community safe every single day.
I’ll conclude my list now so you don’t miss the Packers/Bears game, but I couldn’t be prouder of the standup men and women who serve as peace officers in and around Racine. There isn’t a better cause the proceeds of the event could have gone toward, and I have a feeling the fifth annual Policeman’s Ball will be the best yet. Get your gown and tux ready, and I’ll see you there!