This afternoon at the Elkton Diner a group of retired Elkton police officers got together for an informal, long overdue reunion. Amidst smiles, waves, and handshakes, and tales of long ago, the sense of camaraderie was obvious as they reminisced about the passage of nearly fifty years. And just as if it was yesterday, the professional bond, the friendship, and the shared sense of duty in serving and protecting the community was still there too.
Oh sure some of those war stories from long ago haven’t suffered at all from many a recitation. But there were also conversations about the era when professionalization of policing got its start in Cecil County as these men each had a direct hand in that. Two of them graduated from the first Maryland Police Training Commission Academy back in 1968, a time when formal schooling for officers was a novel, fresh concept.
That was the idea of getting them back together since the Historical Society is interested in developing bodies of oral history materials related to local occupations. So with the help and encouragement of Detective Willis R. May, one of the first academy graduates, the project around the work of the Elkton Police Department from forty to fifty years ago is taking shape.
The elder statesman and former commanding officer of the group was Chief Thomas N. McIntire. He got his start on the crime beat in 1951 as a patrolman when the department had one car, no radios, calls came in on a phone hanging from a utility pole, and the pay was $1.25 an hour. Sworn in as chief in 1962 as the town put on a push to modernize the force, the chief hired every one of these men. Over the years, he guided the department into the modern era.
In the seniority cluster there was also Marshall Purner and Sheriff Sam Du Pont. Purner, following stints in the armed services and the Louisville, Kentucky PD, came home to work as chief in North East in 1957. He joined the county seat’s force in 1966. Sheriff du Pont started in Elkton around that time too and moved on to be elected as the county’s chief lawmen in 1970. He was the other academy graduate in 1968.
The youngsters in the group included Ernie Beck and Willis R. May who joined the department as young twenty-somethings in the second half of the 1960s. Joseph Zurolo, Duane Pease, and Rick Blake were sworn in as patrolmen a little later, in the early 1970s.
On this gray, chilly Tuesday afternoon mid-way through autumn, as the weather broadcasters talked about some overnight snow, old friends who had not seen each other in decades exchanged lots of stories. After a couple of hours of reminiscing, they slowly started bundling up to exit out into the cool November air as some mixed preciptation dampened the day. But these premature reminders about the cold season ahead didn’t affect this group as plans were put together to formally assemble a first-person narrative about these times. Only a couple of officers weren’t able to make it today.
At the Historical Society, we are going to work on getting a solid body of oral history materials together that captures their experience serving and protecting the community during the period when the criminal justice system evolved to deal with the challenges of that troubling decade, the 1960s. We’ll keep you updated as this initiative moves along.