Retiring Farms public safety personnel reflect on careers

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 9, 2018

 From left, Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Department Sgt. John Bruno, senior dispatcher Katie Gacobelli and Officer Stephen Puckett have all retired over the last two weeks.

From left, Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Department Sgt. John Bruno, senior dispatcher Katie Gacobelli and Officer Stephen Puckett have all retired over the last two weeks.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — During her 32 years as a dispatcher, Katie Gacobelli learned to expect the unexpected.

Gacobelli — the senior dispatcher in the Farms — retired Jan. 5, one of three veterans who wore their uniforms for the last time during the last two weeks.

“It’s the most interesting job you’ll ever have,” she said of a career that called for calm in the midst of chaos. “Every day is different. You never know (what to expect) — it’s always different. If there’s a (major) fire, you’re not going home (at the end of your shift). That’s what I tell the young people: If you want weekends off, don’t work this job. You work weekends. You work holidays.”

Joining her in retirement are Officer Stephen Puckett, who served as the school liaison officer from 2002 to 2017 and retired Dec. 31, and Sgt. John Bruno, who was slated to retire Jan. 12.

“You’ve got almost 90 years of experience going out the door,” said Public Safety Director Daniel Jensen.

Jensen said all three are “great people.”

“They’re all very invaluable members of this department. … We’re sad to see them leave,” he said.

Puckett, 57, of Grosse Pointe Woods, began working for the Farms in September 1985, following 3 1/2 years with the Van Buren Township Police Department.

Although no one in his immediate family worked in law enforcement, “I always wanted to be a police officer,” said Puckett, who also spent some time as a security officer at Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi. Two of his brothers-in-law are retired law enforcement officers.

“It’s always a fun time to get together and talk about” experiences in the field, he said.

Puckett and his wife, Audine, have three adult children; their oldest, a daughter, is a special education teacher; their middle child, a son, is in the military and serving in New York; and their youngest, a daughter, is working on her doctorate in physical therapy. Both daughters are living around Mount Pleasant, and Puckett said many members of his wife’s family live on the west side of the state, so they’re considering moving to that area.

Their oldest daughter now has a 1-year-old son, and she’s expecting her second son April 1. Now that they’re grandparents, Puckett said he and his wife would like to be “close enough (to the grandchildren) so that we can spoil them,” he said with a smile.

Audine Puckett has worked for years as a preschool teacher at Sunny Days Preschool in Grosse Pointe Woods, where she’s known as “Miss Audine.” Puckett said his wife plans to retire at the end of this school year.

Puckett said “the best part” of his job has been serving as the school liaison officer, working with kids in the Grosse Pointe schools from kindergarten through high school. Many of the youngsters were students of his wife first, and he said she’s come to some of his classes.

As the school liaison officer, Puckett leads programs like Safety Town in the summer and discusses topics from bullying to stranger dangers to alcohol and substance abuse. Some of his favorite memories on the job involve “just being around the kids and now seeing the second generation (of students) and mentoring (them) and hopefully being a role model for the kids.”

Officer Traci Reitzloff, who started working for the Farms in July 1995, is taking over as the school liaison officer, but Jensen acknowledged that she has big shoes to fill.

“Steve Puckett has done a fantastic job as the school liaison safety officer,” Jensen said. “When you go into a school with him, all of the kids know him. It’s amazing to watch the reaction of the kids.”

Jensen said some of the schools had special events to honor Puckett when they found out he was retiring.

“He was a very, very dedicated, very caring guy,” Jensen said.

Ted Roney, one of the Farms dispatchers, echoed that sentiment.

“We’re going to miss him so much,” Roney said.

Puckett, likewise, said he’s most going to miss his colleagues in public safety and at the schools, as well as the kids.

“Grosse Pointe Farms is an awesome place to work,” Puckett said. “Our administration is the best. They take care of us. They care about us.”

He said he doesn’t have any firm plans yet as far as working in retirement; Puckett said he’s looking forward to spending more time with family and perhaps enjoying more scuba diving and golf.

Gacobelli, 57, said she started working for the Farms only a couple of months before Puckett. She had been an EKG technician in a hospital before becoming a dispatcher.

“My grandfather was a Detroit police officer,” she said. “It was a time in my life when I needed a career.”

Gacobelli said her job — which has involved handling 911 calls and other responsibilities — can go from getting a cup of coffee to responding to someone in desperate need of help.

“I saved a couple of babies over the phone,” she said of coaching parents through the Heimlich maneuver and other life-saving procedures. “And then I heard that baby cry,” continued Gacobelli, delighted and relieved to know a choking infant was going to make it.

Gacobelli said members of the department forge tight bonds. Because of their work schedules, she said they often end up celebrating the holidays together.

“We’re each other’s families,” she said.

Farms residents and business owners are supportive, frequently bringing in food for the officers — especially on the holidays.

“It’s the best job,” Gacobelli said. “You don’t get a million dollars, but you have the best stories to tell.”

For most of her time in the Farms, Gacobelli lived in Grosse Pointe Woods, but anticipating retirement, she moved to Macomb Township about a year ago with her husband of 11 years, Rudy Gacobelli, a retired Clinton Township police officer.

“I think 32 years is enough,” she said of her decision to retire now. “I want to do some traveling and read books that don’t have anything to do with police work.”

Anyone who’s ever looked at the Farms Public Safety Department’s detailed annual report has seen one of Gacobelli’s contributions to the department. Jensen said she served as the records clerk for the last 27 years.

“She’s been very instrumental in compiling data for the annual report,” Jensen said.

Especially following the 2015 retirements of three other longtime Farms dispatchers, Gacobelli was a vital resource for the new generation of dispatchers who’ve been hired in the last couple of years.

“She’s been a great dispatcher,” Jensen said. “She’s trained a lot of dispatchers as well.”

Jensen said Gacobelli technically retired last year as a full-time dispatcher, but stayed on for another year on a part-time basis.

Bruno, who was promoted to sergeant in 2006, marked his 25th anniversary with the Farms this month. Prior to becoming a public safety officer, Bruno, 50, said he spent six years in the Marines, where he served his country in Okinawa and the Philippines. His family owned an appliance store, and most of his relatives “went in that direction,” but Bruno said he knew he wanted to go into police work since he was a teenager. One of his uncles was a retired Roseville police officer.

“I always looked up to him,” Bruno said.

Over the last 2 1/2 decades, “I’ve pretty much been involved in anything you can be involved in” as far as public safety, Bruno said, noting that he’s fought a number of fires, been involved in high-speed chases, saved a few lives — one of them a baby’s — and apprehended multiple suspects. Last January, Bruno’s instincts as an officer led to the arrest of two skittish men in a truck who had just pulled off a home invasion in the Farms; Bruno initially pulled over the men for a traffic violation.

Bruno said he’s retiring now so that he and his wife, Rachael, can move from their home in Waterford to her hometown in Tawas, where they plan to run a convenience store. The couple and their children — a 16-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 14 and 11 — were planning to move Up North as soon as Bruno retired, he said, adding that they have extended family in that area.

“I’ve done a lot in this career, and I’m ready to move on and begin a new path,” Bruno said.

He said he was going to miss his co-workers the most.

“I work with a lot of good people,” Bruno said.

Bruno, said Jensen, is “another fantastic guy, and a great supervisor. He instills confidence in the (other officers). The guys all respect him and like him.”

A private party for the retirees and their colleagues took place Jan. 8 at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in the Farms. Dirty Dog owner Gretchen Valade, a well-known businesswoman and philanthropist, has long been a supporter of the city’s Public Safety Department.

“I hate to see them go, but they’ve earned it,” Jensen said. “I wish them the best.”