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Community gathers to honor Officer Hetland

Community gathers to honor Officer Hetland


STURTEVANT — Hiawatha Bar and Grill, 9809 Durand Ave., owner Tammy Graceffa was one of the lucky many to consider Racine Police Officer John Hetland a friend.

His spot at the bar is now marked by a painted ceiling tile and a carved wooden American flag hanging overhead. A mural on the west side of the building was completed in time for Saturday’s fundraiser for Hetland’s family, showing Hetland looking out the window of the engineer’s booth of a train.

Graceffa and a team of about eight people started meeting weekly to plan Saturday’s fundraiser for his family shortly after hearing that Hetland had been shot and killed in June.

“We just felt when it happened, we had to honor him in some way,” said Graceffa. “It was important to get together and honor him, not just because he was a law enforcement person but because he was an all around top-notch guy.”

Based on attendance on a rainy Saturday, the community agreed. The event started at 2 p.m. and by 4, Graceffa was sending out the last rolls of raffle tickets and talking about how they’ll probably need to send someone out for more.

In the short time they organized the event, the group collected about 150 baskets for raffle, 50 to 60 silent auction items and 22 for live auction, including a foosball table, kayaks, a snowblower, a vacation package and more.

“I’ve done a lot of fundraisers and this one was the easiest for (collecting) donations,” said Graceffa. “By far.”

The funds raised will go into a trust account for Hetland’s two young children.

Community support

With live music, food, drink, and fireworks planned for later in the evening, the mood was festive. The raffle announcer announced one man won a wheelbarrow of booze and the man loudly announced that he’s keeping the wheelbarrow.

Outside, Mike Tussler and Danny Carbajal carved up a hog that had been slow cooked since 7 a.m. Tussler knew Hetland before he became a police officer, when he was a young man whom Tussler trained to do grounds maintenance at Kestrel Hawk Landfill.

Three months later, Hetland told Tussler he’d been accepted to police academy. The two remained friends.

“He was a good guy,” said Tussler. “It hurts a little bit every day but we keep going.”

Tussler said the event was “small closure” for those who love and miss Hetland.

“You’ve got to move on,” he said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Racine Police Chief Art Howell attended the event. The department had not had an active-duty officer killed in more than four decades, so many RPD officers have never had this experience. Howell said seeing the community come out for an event like Saturday’s helps.

“For officers still having to serve, it’s great to see the support,” said Howell.

Graceffa said she was enjoying meeting so many other people who had known Hetland and hearing their stories about him.

“There’s a lot of people smiling because of him today. Because of the man he was,” said Graceffa. “It’s hard to heal from losing someone as special as he was.”

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Christina Lieffring covers the City of Racine and the City of Burlington and is a not-bad photographer. In her spare time she tries to keep her plants and guinea pigs alive and happy.

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