My turn

Fallen officer’s memory kept alive 10 years later

2014-02-02T00:00:00Z Fallen officer’s memory kept alive 10 years laterCarrie Steinweg Times Columnist nwitimes.com
February 02, 2014 12:00 am  • 

What might Wally Rolniak be doing today in 2014 as compared to 2004? He might have a few gray hairs on his head from aging and raising teenage girls. He may be starting to think about retiring in the next decade from a long career as a police officer. Perhaps he’d be taking selfies with his grown daughters. He’d still be enjoying dinners out with his siblings and parents. It’s normal stuff that happens all the time with families in the region.

However, these are all things that won’t happen for the Rolniak family — not since his “end of watch” on Feb. 4, 2004. Detective Rolniak was doing the job he loved that day with the Riverdale Police Department. And in an instant that promising future of his was taken when he was forced from the police station by a suspect who was being questioned for attempted murder, home invasion and aggravated kidnapping and then shot execution style.

This week as it nears 10 years since Rolniak’s death, his family focuses not on how he died or what would have been, but what he meant to them in the time they had with him. His wife, Maureen, and daughters, Nicole, 24, and Denise, 22, talk about him often and remember all the fun times they had as a family.

Wally and Maureen married on Aug. 8, 1989 at St. Mary Church in Chicago. They’d met in high school and started dating after Wally was out of the service. He spent four years serving in the U.S. Air Force.

“He was a great husband and father. He always kept me on my toes. He made me and the girls laugh a lot and I miss that. Wally was always upbeat and acting silly,” Maureen said. “Anyone that knew him knew he was a family man. If he was not at work, we were together as a family. We have so many memories together from our Saturday night bowling league, which was also ‘date night’ for us.”

Maureen said that he enjoyed his role as “coach” and they spent many weekends out at the softball fields where his daughters played and he coached their teams. “We also spent a lot of time hanging out with friends and spending time with our families at family parties. Our lives have been changed forever. We miss him more with each day that passes.”

Dan Dempsey was Rolniak’s partner for several years and was a detective working with Rolniak the night he was killed. Dempsey also emphasized how dedicated Rolniak was to his family. “Wally was not only a great friend and partner but a man that spent every day talking about his wife, daughters, mom and dad, and sisters,” Dempsey said. “Family was the most important thing to Wally.”

I really feel for his family and can relate on some levels, although I couldn’t begin to know the feeling of their loss. The Rolniak family grew up in Dolton where I also grew up. His younger sister was a classmate of mine through elementary school and high school. Wally was the handsome big brother of my friend, Stacey. Like her, I was a little sister and I had handsome, big brothers that meant the world to me and who I looked up. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have them here and especially to lose a sibling in such a tragic and senseless way. I’ve also got a brother-in-law who served about three decades as a police officer in our hometown and there’s a constant concern for their safety when they do that job.

Rolniak’s wife and kids will spend what Maureen called “Wally’s 10th birthday in Heaven” with family and friends remembering the good times and celebrating the legacy Wally has left.

The public safety building in Riverdale bears Rolniak’s name and a memorial race is held each year at Balmoral Park Race Track in Crete in his honor. “There are many cars out there with his sticker on them to remember him as well,” Maureen said. “It's great knowing that Wally affected other peoples' lives as well and not just our lives.”

The opinions are solely those of the writer. She can be reached at csteinw@yahoo.com.

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