Richard Stager and Michael Poddany remember well the late 1970s day they both interviewed for jobs with the Oregon Police Department.
Mr. Stager had just returned from Florida when he opened the letter about the scheduled interview. Clad in flip-flops and jeans, with long hair and a deep tan, the first question he was asked was whether he did drugs.
"When they asked that question, I thought, 'Oh, my. I got to think of something here,' " Mr. Stager recalled with a laugh.
Mr. Poddany, for his part, had noticed Mr. Stager and believed he had a good shot at getting the job based on the looks of the competition.
Both men -- Mr. Poddany first, and then Mr. Stager, who for years was called a hippie, Puerto Rican, or both based on his initial appearance -- would go on to spend their entire careers serving in the department.
So would another man interviewed about the same time, Lt. Brian Andrzejewski. Combined, the three men have nearly 100 years with the 46-officer department, and all are retiring within the next few weeks. They will be honored at an open house from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Jan. 21 in the community room at the city complex, 5330 Seaman Rd.
Mr. Stager, 58, is retiring as chief, a position he has held since June, 2008. He had planned to retire three years ago when his wife was battling cancer, but then-Mayor Marge Brown asked him to take the chief job, which helped him deal with Debby's death, he said.
The chief will have 32 years and nearly 8 months with the department when he retires Jan. 28. Lieutenant Andrzejewski , 57, will have 33 years and a month when he retires Jan. 21.
The two laughingly remember being outfitted with leather holsters and other gear from pawn shops when they joined the force. Since Chief Stager is left-handed, he had to cross-draw from a right-handed holster until another was supplied.
They also remember teaming up in 1983, when police department layoffs left just one patrol crew for the entire community. And they and Officer Poddany remember checking doors around Oregon to make sure they were locked, foot and auto chases, and other duties.
"We went out and we worked," Lieutenant Andrzejewski said. "We made a lot of arrests."
The use of technology such as computers in patrol cars and standard practices to handle crimes, they said, are among the biggest changes in law enforcement since they joined the force. The department is more focused toward community service, not just protection, and involved with homeland security, they said. "Police work was a lot different in the '70s and '80s than it is now," said Lieutenant Andrzejewski. Vehicles were so sparse, they brought along transistor radios. "If you ever got in a chase, there goes the radio flying across the dash."
Officer Poddany, 57, plans to retire in mid-February with about 34 years of service. A Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer for about 20 years, he received the Larry Cox Memorial of the Year Award in 2008 from the state association.
Well-known in Oregon, he said it's been especially gratifying to see some former students become police officers, secret servicemen, and CIA agents.
"All the kids in school still think I'm chief," Officer Poddany said with a grin.
Two former students, Lieutenant Andrzejewski's son Zak and Chief Stager's son Ryan, are officers with the Sylvania Police Department.
"They're both good officers," Chief Stager said. "I'd love to have them here."
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