SOUTHWICK – Southwick Police Sgt. Kirk Sanders retired Sept. 6 after 40 years of service to the community.
Sanders began his career Sept. 3, 1979 at the Southwick Police Department and spent nearly every day of the next 40 years in service to his community.
Sanders is the quintessential friendly police officer. He’s quick with a smile and a laugh. He offers his expertise and sage advice when asked, and he’s respected and admired by colleagues and the community alike. Even people he’s arrested respect him, according to Sgt. Brad Fisk.
Fisk worked with Sanders for the past 22 years, many of which were spent on the overnight shift. Working when the bars close could be a challenge at times, said Fisk, but Sanders took it all in stride and treated everyone fairly.
“People just respected him,” said Fisk. “Even those who were doing something wrong respected him.”
Fisk said he learned a lot from Sanders, not just about being a good police officer, but about being a good person and a good manager.
“He always let you do your job,” said Fisk. “He stepped in when he had to, but he knew we could handle it. Him believing in me meant a lot.
“There’s no one who ever talked bad about Kirk Sanders,” Fisk said. “It’s a great legacy.”
Sanders was feted with a lunch at the station Friday and a retirement party Saturday at Shaker Country Club. And while he was thrilled to have his children Jessie, Kim and Kyle by his side throughout the celebrations, he said he missed his best friend and wife Susan who passed away last year.
“It’s tough,” he said.
Sanders’ daughter Kim said “it’s a big change for all of us without my mom here.”
She and Kyle attended the lunch Friday and spoke about being raised at the station.
“The Town of Southwick is a huge part of our family,” she said, even though she now lives in Australia. “We grew up running around this police department. We will forever be ‘Officer Sanders’ kids’.”
Sanders’ children all inherited something from him that inspired their careers. Jessie works with children with special needs, Kim is in graphic arts and Kyle is also a Southwick Police officer.
For Kyle, working alongside his father has been a different kind of lesson.
“I really enjoyed working with him,” he said. “I learned a lot.”
What he learned the most was that his dad was an integral part of the Southwick Police and the community, and he loved it.
“If I could put in half as much dedication that he put into this town, it would be more than anyone could expect,” said Kyle Sanders.
Sanders was born in Garden City, Michigan and moved to Southwick as a toddler when his father’s business brought them here. Growing up, Sanders’ parents were an inspiration — “my father for his work ethic and my mother for how to treat people.”
Sanders’ inspiration to join law enforcement was his grandfather.
“He was on the Garden City Police Department,” he said. “My brother and sister and I spent two weeks with them every summer and he shared a lot of stories with me.”
Sanders said the department has changed for the better over the past few decades.
When he started on the job, it was a different time and Southwick was a different place.
“It was like the Wild, Wild West back then,” he recalled. “It was ‘Us vs. Them’.”
Times have changed and the police have a different presence in the community. Some would argue Sanders deserves much of that credit. He started working in the schools and became the safety officer, creating a successful D.A.R.E. program there. In the 90’s, the police had a station at the high school.
“I couldn’t believe how many students took to it – they loved it,” said Sanders. “I hope they keep a safety and drug program in the schools.”
For 27 years Sanders worked with Southwick’s students and he said he sees former students today who thank him for the lessons he taught.
Sanders said continuing some sort of drug education program is imperative.
“The heroin epidemic is very real,” he said.
Sanders said the level of training possessed by officers is another big change for the better.
Police Chief Kevin A. Bishop touted Sanders’ work and joked that it would take numerous officers to fill his shoes.
“He’s going to be hard to replace,” Bishop said, listing his duties, including his safety and D.A.R.E. work, community policing, citizens police academy, organizing of the golf tournament, graphic arts expertise and normal sergeant responsibilities.
For Sanders, retiring is bittersweet. And as anyone who knows him would expect, he was not about to sit at home or golf or travel – he started his retirement career with the school department as a van driver on Monday.
“I am looking forward to this next chapter, but I will miss the camaraderie,” Sanders said.