HIGHLAND — They go to work every day, putting on a uniform to serve and protect their communities. Sometimes they don’t make it home.
North Township showed its appreciation to police, fire and emergency medical personnel who died in the line of duty with the dedication Saturday of the Fallen Heroes Memorial at Wicker Memorial Park.
Diane Markley, of Highland, knows how it feels when your loved one does not return home. Her husband, Highland Police Officer Robert J. Markley, was killed March 10, 1978 when he was struck by a drunk driver while directing traffic near Indianapolis Boulevard.
“I am so honored that they would do something like this, especially after all these years,” Diane Markley said. “The town has a ceremony every year for its fallen officers and I always attend, but honoring everybody is icing on the cake.”
Markley said it was “scary” being a policeman’s wife. “In today’s world, I would be petrified,” she added. “Back then, we had this little town of Highland. (A policeman’s death) was something you just didn’t worry about. I feel for the police today. That respect is gone.”
Robert Markley and fellow Highland Officer Donald R. Sheppard, who died on Nov. 12, 1971, have their names inscribed on the memorial.
Located in the southeast corner of the park, near the corner of Ridge Road and Indianapolis Boulevard, the Fallen Heroes Memorial features three black granite panels, one each for police, fire and EMS. The panels list each person’s name and his last day of duty or call. Key donors are remembered on black granite benches.
Among the families attending were Hobart residents Kathy Mulvihill and Marianne Mummey for their grandfather, Francis Lloyd Mulvihill, an East Chicago police officer killed March 24, 1934 by a member of the John Dillinger gang.
“This means a lot,” said Mummey. “Every time people go to the park, they can see the memorial.”
Kathy Mulvihill called the memorial “awesome, because a lot of people don’t know about these first responders.’
The memorial lists of names of 33 first responders, including 12 firefighters, 20 police officers, and one EMS, Charles Black, who died Aug. 10, 2011. He worked for Highland Superior EMS, which services all five communities in North Township.
Another family member of two deceased Hammond firefighters, Patrick Biedron, of Crown Point, brought his family to honor his father, Fred P. Biedron, killed in a warehouse fire Dec. 16, 1991; and his grandfather, Fred W. Biedron, who died while responding to a house fire March 18, 1968.
“It’s great that people remember our past, our heroes,” Patrick Biedron said, saying his father and grandfather “had great hearts, they were fearless, and they were dedicated. I try to instill that in my children.”
Ten members of the Rizzardo family attended the ceremony with their patriarch, former East Chicago Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Rizzardo. Now 90, he was a firefighter for 38 years. His family purchased a plaque in his honor.
“It’s beautiful,” Rizzardo, a Schererville resident, said. “It’s really nice that people remember the guys who fought the fires.”
Highland Police Commander John Banasiak, who first presented the memorial idea to North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan in 2018, said, “We’re here to honor and remember those first responders who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Each went to work one day but never came home.”
Mrvan said, “This is the least we can do to honor your memory.”
Despite the current national divisiveness, Mrvan said safety and security are not about political parties or races. “May this memorial bring us together in peace,” the township trustee said.
Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez also thanked the families of the fallen “for their dedication and sacrifice.”
More than 160 individuals, businesses and corporations have donated to the project.
Among those donors, Kelly Kathlina, store director for the Highland Meijer, said, “The local police, fire, and EMS are a very active part of our store and community. They support us tremendously, and we felt compelled to support them. This is just amazing.”
Businesses involved in project design included Dean’s Landscaping of Schererville, Hillside Funeral Home and Cremation Center of Highland, and The Idea Factory of Crown Point. Banasiak cited BP as the first and largest donor, boosting the initial fundraising effort.
Renee Ramos-Figueroa, a member of Mrvan’s staff, served as project coordinator. The daughter of late East Chicago Police Commander John Ramos said she feels “proud that we were able to put together a monument so that these people will never be forgotten.”
Ramos-Figueroa’s father died in 2015. If he were alive today, his daughter said, “He would be proud that there was someplace for remembering first responders and for their families to be able to come and visit.”
Memorial donations are still being accepted. For more information, visit NTTfallenheroes.org or call Renee Ramos-Figueroa at 219-838-3420.
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