Grundy County police, fire departments commemorate the lives of their fallen

The Joliet Pipe and Drums play during the police and firefighter memorial ceremony at Morris City Hall on Thursday.

Police and fire departments from around Grundy County gathered inside Morris City Hall Thursday to commemorate the lives who have passed in the line of duty.

They shared stories of Officer Marshall Enoch T. Hopkins, who passed on Sept. 14, 1878, Officer Clarence R. Roseland, who passed on Feb. 3, 1935, Firefighter James K. Allen, who passed on March 18, 1985, and Firefighter Kenneth Frayne, who passed on Oct. 13, 2001. Roseland and Allen each have sections of Illinois Route 47 through Morris named after them.

The departments gather annually to celebrate the lives of their fallen. They were joined by Caitlyn Brennan, the CEO of the 100 Club of Illinois. The 100 Club of Illinois provides resources, financial support, training and moral support to first responders and their families. Brennan traveled to Morris from Washington DC yesterday, where she was supporting police families who had their loved one’s names added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

“It’s a week of remembrance,” Brennan said. “It’s a week of love, and also a week to make sure families know that they’re beholden to all of us and that we will continue to take care of them and take care of making sure that their heroes names are always said.”

Brennan said the 100 Club of Illinois’ journey started in 1967 with the death of Officer William Bell. Since then, her organization has helped 321. Brennan has been the CEO of the organization for 72 of them.

“It’s sheer and utter heartbreak,” Brennan said. “For a life taken, for a story cut short and a family and community of brothers and sisters left with a void. But it’s also the loss of a great public servant. I’ve never met a single family whose hero was just so-so, or punched the clock and went home each of these heroes served in the most noble forms.”

Morris Deputy Chief Chad Skelton shared the story of one of those lives cut short, Officer Hopkins. Skelton has shared the story many times before: Hopkins came across two locals well-known as rough-around-the-edges named Frank Foster and Charlie Miller. They were intoxicated and causing a disturbance, ignoring warnings and continuing their drinking until Hopkins decided to arrest them.

“Marshall Hopkins brought the man out of an alley and they broke free and fled on foot,” Skelton said. “Marshall Hopkins gave chase when Miller drew his pistol, firing twice and striking the Marshall near the heart.”

Hopkins left behind a wife, and Foster was arrested. Miller fled the state and was never caught.

Morris Police Chief Alicia Steffes addresses the crowd on Thursday.

Chief Alicia Steffes shared the story of Officer Roseland, who was shot from behind while criminals attempted to rob a Liberty Street store at gunpoint in 1935.

“On the night of Feb. 3, 1935, Roseland and his partner, Ed Garrity were making their regular rounds patrolling sores and businesses in the downtown area,” Steffes said. “While in the 800 block of Liberty Street, just a block over, Garrity had gone into a nearby building to conduct some personal business. Roseland began walking the streets to check local businesses when he reached Gable’s Grocery Store on the east side of the street.”

He entered the store and was confronted by a man with a gun. Three men had broken in and were robbing the store. Roseland was was forced at gunpoint to return to his vehicle, and Garrity found him shot in the head from behind. The robbers fled the scene with a female store clerk held hostage. She was released unharmed in Joliet, while the robbers made out with $60. The robbers were apprehended several months later.

Morris Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Wilson served with Allen, and they started just months apart.

“When Jimmy and I joined the department, there were 35 members on the roster,” Wilson said. “When an opening became available, you were voted on by the fellow members to join the department.”

Wilson said there were two departments back then, the Morris Rural Fire Protection District and the Morris City Fire Department, both volunteer departments. Wilson said they all met every Monday night at 6 p.m. for training, and they built up lifelong friendships.

Wilson was working at the La Salle Generating Station back then, and he would often head back to Morris past the firehouse to see if the firefighters were out. On that day, he turned the corner of Washington Street to see the cars parked everywhere, which means they were out responding to a call. The Morris Fire Protection Rural engine was gone, too.

“I looked down and there was Jimmy’s brown Carhartt vest that he always wore to work,” Wilson said. “I picked up his vest and hung it in his locker not knowing this is the last time I’d hang it up for him. Next week, we learned how to properly honor a fallen firefighter, and grieve the loss.”

More than 60 departments attended Jimmy’s funeral.

Police and firefighters line the room at Morris City Hall Thursday for the memorial ceremony.

Jacque Arnold, with the Channahon Fire Department, shared Frayne’s story. He passed in 2001, and Arnold called Frayne’s loss the most catastrophic in Channahon Fire District’s history.

The department was out for a training exercise on a chilly, rainy morning because firefighters don’t cancel drills because of bad weather. Frayne was a diver and was getting his practice in with his fellow divers.

“All the divers underwater gave a safe signal to surface, and they were accounted for at that point,” Arnold said. “But Ken didn’t come up with the other divers.”

Frayne initially gave the signal that he was good, too, but he never resurfaced. He was found alive, but later passed on from his injuries.

Music was provided throughout the morning by the Joliet Pipe and Drums.

Michael Urbanec

Michael Urbanec

Michael Urbanec covers Grundy County and the City of Morris, Coal City, Minooka, and more for the Morris Herald-News