Impact of public safety Class of ’93 still felt in Hobart
BY KAREN CAFFARINI Post-Tribune correspondent October 7, 2013 1:54PM
As Hobart Police Chief, Dave Evans took part in ceremonies opening the city's new Police, Courts and Community Center in 2011. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: November 9, 2013 6:02AM
HOBART — Twenty years ago, Dave Evans was a Marine faced facing a tough decision: Stay in the Corps and go back to Hawaii or take a new direction in his life.
Tom Castle was a Marine who had served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and Rick Zormier was a Lake Station police officer.
All three men chose to try their luck in securing a new career, joining hundreds of others who applied for about three dozen jobs that opened up in Hobart’s police and fire departments in 1993 as a result of the city’s decision to annex nine square miles of previously unincorporated Ross Township.
Not only did the new land include a number of homes; it also was home to Westfield Southlake mall and other businesses that popped up along the commercial-rich U.S. 30 corridor.
About 280 people applied for 15 police positions. Many more applied for about 18 firefighter positions, some of whom would man a new, fourth fire station that was to be built just north of U.S. 30, to accommodate the new area.
Of the 15 police officers chosen, two were women. Three of the new hires would later serve as chief of police, including Evans and now Zormier, sworn in as the current chief earlier this year.
Evans and Zormier also are among only four officers still remaining from thosehires of 1993. The other two are Code Enforcement Officer Ken Gagliardi and Officer Frank Osterkamp.
Castle was one of 18 firefighters chosen, and one of eight still remaining. He serves as president of the Hobart Firefighters Union Local 1641.
“I had a ‘Come to God’ moment. I had to decide whether I wanted to stay in the Marines or get out,” Castle said.
He decided to get out and follow his boyhood dream of becoming a firefighter.
“I applied to fire departments all over the place. Hobart was the first to call,” Castle said.
Zormier said he applied to the Hobart Police Department because he saw the annexation as a growth opportunity for the city, but most importantly, because he would be serving his hometown.
Mayor Brian Snedecor believes the annexation, though controversial at the time, was a positive move for the city and for the Ross Township residents who joined the city as a result.
“Looking back I can say without hesitation it was in the best interest of the city and its future growth,” Snedecor said.
He pointed to the development that has occurred since the annexation — the Target store, businesses north of the mall, Albanese Confectionery, NorthWinds industrial park — as well as infrastructure improvements such as the street light at Clay and U.S. 30.
“NorthWinds wouldn’t have happened without the annexation,” Clerk-treasurer Deb Longer said.
Snedecor believes residents of the annexed area have benefited from the full-time fire department, city police department and other services, but feels they would feel more like they are a part of Hobart if their children could attend Hobart schools and they could have the same ZIP code. The city’s request for a single ZIP code has been denied twice.
Children in the annexed portion attend Merrillville public schools.
The mass hiring has had both a positive and a somewhat negative effect on the fire department 20 years later.
Having eight of those hires still on the force has resulted in an experienced, but expensive department, as many of them now hold higher ranks. A study of the department and its budget is being conducted by an outside agency, with results expected in the next couple of weeks.
As for the three men who gained a long career as the result of the annexation, they said there were bumps in the beginning, and changes through the years. But most of all, there were some long-lasting friendships forged among the newbies of 1993.
“Absolutely we formed bonds. Many of us did,” said Evans, who said he and Gagliardi are still close today.
Evans said when he was first hired, the police officers were still using typewriters and doing handwritten reports.
“The department has been moving in the right direction,” Evans said.
Zormier recalled the department being in city hall and in the midst of a new take-home squad car policy when he joined.
“We had pool cars. You’d bring one in and somebody would take it. Plenty of times we had to double up because some car broke down,” Zormier said.
Castle said if he had to do it over, he wouldn’t change his decision.
“I’m very proud to be part of this department,” said Castle, who grew up in Whiting.
“For a kid growing up in a small town to be able to be part of a bigger city, I love it,” he added. “And I’m not just saying that.”