Pre-schoolers spring surprise on Ray McCoy

Preschoolers stretch out on the floor of the Discovery Center in Maple Plain with Ray McCoy, who is retiring on April 29 from his position as director of West Hennepin Public Safety. The youngsters are holding their Ray McCoy masks, which they held while singing to him. (Sun staff photo by Susan Van Cleaf)

Preschoolers stretch out on the floor of the Discovery Center in Maple Plain with Ray McCoy, who is retiring on April 29 from his position as director of West Hennepin Public Safety. The youngsters are holding their Ray McCoy masks, which they held while singing to him. (Sun staff photo by Susan Van Cleaf)

He is retiring after 30 years with WHPS

The lobby of the Discovery Center in Maple Plain on Wednesday, April 16 was brightly lit and crammed full of chatty pre-schoolers, parents, staff and Independence Mayor Marvin Johnson.

Then suddenly all of the lights went off, and the lobby went stone quiet.

The silhouette of Ray McCoy in his West Hennepin Public Safety uniform could be seen as the retiring police chief approached the glass doors. As he stepped into the lobby, the lights went back on and several dozen young voices began to sing, “If you’re thankful for the Chief, clap your hands. If you’re thankful for the Chief, stamp your feet….”

As the youngsters sang, they held Ray McCoy masks in front of their faces. The masks were a black and white photo of McCoy glued to a stick.

McCoy’s face showed surprise. This was quite an accomplishment for the group, given the huge number of people involved in planning April 16 as Ray McCoy Day. Both the Independence and Maple Plain City Councils passed resolutions declaring the day during their regular, public meetings. At the Independence meeting Mayor Johnson said the day was a secret and please don’t tell McCoy. Johnson said this in front of a cable TV camera.

A day or so before the event, WHPS Officer (soon to be Sergeant) Rick Denneson told McCoy that he should go to the Discovery Center on that Wednesday for one last spot check. McCoy replied, “Why? What’s up?” and Denneson told him to just go.

So McCoy might have had an inkling of something but no idea of what.

After the pre-schoolers sang, Mayor Johnson read the joint Maple Plain/Independence/Discovery Center proclamation. It said that it was being presented to McCoy “to serve as a reminder that although he is retiring, he will always be remembered as a kind, considerate and loyal individual dedicated to both his position and the community.”

Discovery Center staff hugged McCoy. He said, “This is pretty cool stuff. I love kids.”

Then he stretched out on the floor where children surrounded him. Adults snapped lots of photos to remember him by.

Afterwards McCoy’s wife Bobbi said that her husband was truly surprised. As he walked by a hint of tears glistened in his eyes. His next stop was to eat lunch with the kids.

Denneson said, “There’s a story behind this.”

The story went like this. After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, McCoy reminded his officers about the Discovery Center in Maple Plain. He asked them to drop by at random times for spot checks once a day to make sure that everything was okay. At first parents asked why police were there, and then they got used to the visits. Children got to know the police officers and began high-fiving them in the hall.

Last year the spot checks paid off, when a belt burned out on the furnace at the Discovery Center. Staff called for a fire drill because the building was filled with smoke. As police responded to the call, children were calmly participating in the drill, because they knew the officers.

Another celebration for McCoy is approaching, and this will not be a surprise. His retirement open house will be from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 29 at Independence City Hall, 1920 County Road 90. A program will begin at 6 p.m. The public is invited.

McCoy’s career with WHPS has spanned 30 years. He started out in 1980 as a reserve officer. In 1983 he moved to the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, and in 1984 he returned to WHPS. He moved up through the ranks to the top position as public safety director.

His accomplishments include a charter membership on the West Metro Drug Task Force, service with the Lake Area Police Chaplains, serving as emergency manager for the cities of Maple Plain and Independence and 14 years on the board for the Hennepin County Justice Integration Committee.

For three years, McCoy has been working with WHPS Sgt. Gary Kroells to prepare him to move into the WHPS directorship. Kroells was sworn in to his new position Tuesday, April 22. Officer Denneson was sworn in to replace Kroells as sergeant. Two new WHPS officers, Matthew Rosati and Jeffrey Kordiak took their oaths of office.

Contact Susan Van Cleaf at susan.vancleaf@ecm-inc.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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