By Stephanie Spyropoulos
HANSON — He has been a presence in the hallways and in the lives of nearly every student in the Whitman-Hanson school for the last 18 years as Hanson Police and School Resource Officer Rick Nawazelski has implemented the DARE program in Hanson schools.
He feels he has given hundreds of students the opportunity to have a person in their lives they know they can trust and talk to.
Success stories of students, who have gone on to teach and help others in their community, are only a few of the triumphs being in the school system has afforded him, Nawazelski said. Often, a student will have spoken to him about deciding not to attend a party or hearing that story in DARE camp that allowed them to trust their gut about a situation, these have brought so many affirmations to his career, he recalled.
“Officer Rick,” as his students and colleagues fondly know him, is a true Hansonite, born and raised here as well as raising his own two children here.
Nawazelski started out as a dispatcher in 1984 and went on to become a part-time officer after attending the police academy. He became full time shortly thereafter completing his 30 years in Hanson. He took over the DARE program in 1997, which he said proudly kept him as an officer instead of looking towards gaining rank in his career.
“I had to stay an officer to remain in DARE. That is what I loved,” he said.
The DARE program will continue in Hanson as Nawazelski passes the torch to fellow officer William Frazier of Hanson. Officer Frazier is currently in training to become the full-time DARE Officer and ended the school year becoming acquainted with students as the new resource officer. Officer Kevin Harrington, as a full-time DARE and resource officer, serves Whitman schools.
Nawazelski encompassed patience and wisdom, which he uses to be a positive influence to educate the youth of tomorrow, and he believes in second chances.
Seeing his work as a DARE officer come full circle is what has kept him grounded, committed and pulled him through some of the more difficult portions of his career.
“I was a hockey coach for a long time and I kept that as a positive, which always helped if I had a hard shift the night before… it helped me keep from being tainted in the bad I saw. It let me see and find the good in people,” he said.
Nawazelski admits the highs and lows of a career in law enforcement can do a toll on someone’s mind. His haunting memories are those of two suicides he responded to. Car accidents and injuries to people have been the hardest calls he admits for him to respond.
“There was a suicide where a man intended to kill his family and then himself but because they were late and he was extremely depressed,” Nawazelski said. “He killed himself. The family came home and found him. This was found out after the investigation… it was 18 years ago and it still comes to mind. It has stayed with me.”
In those days the department didn’t have the counseling and support programs available today.
Still, Nawazelski would encourage anyone who asks him about pursuing a career in law enforcement to find an internship, learn about the career, and find what fits such as forensics there are many different parts of working within the police services not just as an officer. He is a first-generation officer in his family. Both of his children have careers in law enforcement his son is a guard at the Plymouth County Corrections facility and his daughter is a state corrections officer.
Nawazelski lauded Hanson Chief Michael Miksch who has been a strong supporter of DARE.
“We are lucky to have a chief who is committed to DARE and resource officers in the school. I believe it makes a difference, “said Nawazelski.
Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz has sponsored DARE camp as a week of summer fun for 970 campers over the last 20 years. Before him, the late William O’Malley and Michael Sullivan also supported and helped fund the DARE camp — a time of bonding for local officers and kids on the South Shore through fun and education, themed days, special guest performers, a visit from the state police helicopter, a day of water fun, lunches, snacks and team bonding are all part of the nonstop week. Nawazelski has hosted the camp 14 out of 15 years at WHRHS and the middle school. Several other towns in Plymouth County hosted and from 2005-2008 Duxbury co-hosted when camp ran for two weeks.
Planning camp is a yearlong labor of love and begins almost as soon as the camp ends each year. Securing donations when times are tough has been a struggle but with local businesses offering discounts, and sponsorship of lunch, snacks, drinks, and activities there are many behind-the-scene hands to pull the camp together in success.
Cruisin’s New England Magazine, a strong local supporter of DARE education, honored Nawazelski as DARE Officer of the year in 2007. He also received numerous citations for his career from Plymouth County organizations at the last DARE graduation he oversaw for the school year 2014. He said the emotional impact of guest speaker Amanda Earner’s life after her brother Greg died of a tragic overdose is something all in attendance won’t soon forget. He admitted that he, too, had tears following her emotional speech at DARE graduation. In all his years as an officer he has seen a lot happen but he has never allowed his heart to harden.
On the last day of school, he received messages of thanks from dozens of students, piles of handmade cards and countless teary goodbyes.
As he gets ready to retire in late August he is looking forward to the next chapter in life spending time and vacations with his wife of over 40 years — they hope to go on a cruise. He is looking forward to his daughter’s upcoming nuptials and spending time with his grandchildren.