WINTERSVILLE - A large man with a big heart, teacher of law enforcement to hundreds of young people, a by-the-book guy and a very family-oriented person - that is how Victor Calabrese Jr. is being remembered.
The longtime police chief of the Wintersville and Cross Creek Township police departments died Wednesday at the age of 75.
Calabrese spent 38 years with the Wintersville Police Department and eight years with Cross Creek police.
He was an instructor at the local law enforcement academy, graduate of the National FBI Academy and a firearms instructor for cops for two decades.
Wintersville Police Chief Ed Laman said Calabrese was a family oriented person.
"He would go out of his way to do anything for you. He was very compassionate about family matters," Laman said.
"As a chief, he was very strict, very strong-willed. He did everything by the book. He did not vary from it. He was a very good chief and adamant about training. His main priority was firearm training."
Laman said Calabrese gave a lot of young men a chance at becoming a police officer through the department's auxiliary program. Auxiliary officers work for no pay but get on-the-job experience.
"You can't believe the number of people who started their career as a Wintersville auxiliary officer."
Calabrese became Wintersville police chief in January 1965. Laman said Calabrese was at that time the youngest police chief in Ohio at age 26. Calabrese started his career with the department two years earlier after returning from service with the Marine Corps, where he was a military police officer.
Calabrese was a state-certified firearm instructor from 1975 through 1995, and during that time he trained and certified many local law enforcement officers.
Laman said there was no Ohio Police Academy =in the late 1960s for officer training, so Calabrese helped to organize a local police academy at Jefferson Technical College in 1968.
Laman said Calabrese was asked to attend the three-month National FBI Academy in 1972. He said it was a big honor because those selected had to be nominated by an FBI agent.
Capt. John DiBacco of the Cross Creek Township Police Department said he knew Calabrese for more than 30 years, the last 20 years as good friends.
"I spent more time with him than my wife and family," he said.
When the Cross Creek police department moved to its current location at the Jefferson County Airpark, DiBacco, Calabrese, other members of the department and township trustees spent many weekends building offices inside the building.
"We shared a lot of good times. Vic was a big man but he knew how to be gentle. Everyone respected him. He taught me a lot about law enforcement. He was firm but fair but a stickler for details, especially with the uniform," DiBacco said.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said Calabrese was a "great police officer."
"I always admired him. When I ran for sheriff, I went to Calabrese personally to tell him. He was a big teddy bear and all around good guy. He was from the old school and went by the book," Abdalla said.
Abdalla said it was Calabrese who certified him as a firearms instructor when Abdalla became sheriff.
Kathy Collopy was Wintersville Police Department secretary and worked with Calabrese for 18 years.
"When I worked for him, he always said, 'Job first, family second.' If you don't have a job, you can't take care of your family. He was so family oriented. He loved his wife Martha deeply," she said. His wife died in March 2010.
She said Calabrese was very structured in how the office was operated, mainly because of his Marine training. "He was responsible for the foundation of the Wintersville Police Department, writing the bylaws and how it was run. He was dedicated to his family, Wintersville and then Cross Creek Township. His life was about service and helping others."
Joe Montgomery, currently the assistant director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, got his start in law enforcement at the Wintersville Police Department under Calabrese. Montgomery finished his service in the Army as a military police officer in 1974 and asked Calabrese about a job. Montgomery worked as an auxiliary officer for two years before he was hired full time. He worked for the department for two years before joining the Ohio State Highway Patrol, retiring as a captain in 2002. He went on to work in the Ohio Inspector General's Office before being appointed to his current position more than two years ago.
Montgomery remembers officers questioning a decision by Calabrese, who responded with a loud boast - "Because I'm the chief."
"It was a very small department and we were extremely tight and worked as a team. I attribute the success in my career back to Vic. He held very high standards and demanded work be done right and people work.
"He was a great man, and I consider him to be a legend in valley law enforcement," Montgomery said.