Hundreds attend slain officer's memorial

July 15, 2010 9:27:26 PM PDT
Every seat at the Rockefeller Chapel in Hyde Park was taken as a Chicago officer killed by his own gun was remembered Thursday.

An 11-year veteran of the department, Chicago Police Officer Thor Soderberg, 43, was shot and killed last week while leaving a police facility at 61st and Racine in Englewood.

Hundreds of Chicago police officers arrived for the memorial at 10 a.m. Thursday, along with Officer Soderberg's family, friends and many others to celebrate his life at the final public goodbye.

Soderberg was remembered for his selflessness and dedication to helping others.

"This is hard for us. We're getting through it, but it's a celebration of his life. It's not a funeral. It's not a mourning. Nobody here is mourning. We're celebrating everything he's put forth," said Randy Jalloway, Soderberg's friend.

Officer Soderberg's widow, Jennifer Loudon, welcomed those in attendance and also thanked them for their ongoing support.

Soderberg and his wife were not parents - but they decided to adopt the community as their village.

"We made the choice that we wanted to be the village, because everybody needs a village and in a big city like this, and in times like these, it's hard to find a village," said Loudon.

Loudon set the tone for the memorial service by wearing red - Soderberg's favorite dress for her to wear.

She said Soderberg loved his job so much, he would have done it for free.

"If someone had told him, "you know what, in your 43rd or 44th year its going to end like this," he would have done it anyway, because that's who he was, and he knew it was his calling," said Loudon.

The memorial included the reading of the 23rd Psalm by Officer Soderberg's two nephews, as well as remarks by Ill. Governor Pat Quinn, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis among others.

" He saw good even in the bad and the ugly - in other words, he was a good, good police officer, but at the same time, he understood what he had to do," said Daley.

Weis echoed Daley's thoughts about Officer Soderberg.

"He saw good in everything, and you can't ask for a better human being than that," said Weis. "We will miss him, but knowing that he touched so many recruits and so many young officers, his legacy will live on through their hard work."

Loudon said Soderberg saw the good and bad in everyone, including criminals, because the worst parts of their worst days had a lesson for all citizens.

"Let us make use of our memory of him to make Chicago a better place," said Mayor Daley. "One person does make a difference in all of our lives."

Soderberg was also in the thoughts of 88 police recruits as they graduated Wednesday. Soderberg taught them during their weeks at the police academy.

"This is extremely difficult for all of us, especially me," said Officer Linda Georgopalis, one of Soderberg's students. "Officer Soderberg worked very closely with me, on his personal time, he did a lot for all of his recruits, and my heart goes out to his family."

His students honored Soderberg by creating an award in his name; one cadet from each graduating class will be given the Thor Soderberg Award.

"I will demonstrate the same humility that he has, given the great authority that we have. Stay humble wearing the badge because it is a tremendous authority and power that we have," said Officer Michael Chatham, Thor Soderberg Award recipient.

"Officer Soderberg has prepared you for your work as guardians of our society, and you are ready. We have called him a hero, and he is," said Weis.

Earlier this week, an outpouring of support could be seen at his visitation as a long line of officers and friends wrapped around a Chicago funeral home.

"He knew patrol was the backbone of everything and if you couldn't do patrol, you couldn't do anything," said Loudon.

Soderberg performed many different roles during his time on the force. He was well-known as a Lincoln Park bicycle cop.

Soderberg preached approaching policing with "fresh eyes."

"Having fresh eyes meant always approach a situation with an open mind, without bias," said valedictorian Deanna M. Rachuy. "For you see, his death was not in vain. The lessons we learn and continue to learn from his life will make us better police officers and better human beings."

Sgt. Davina Loggin, another trainee graduate, said Soderberg's "fresh eyes" approach meant a different take on police work.

"He said: Don't be so serious about things, just have fun, you know, you are on this job, it is a dangerous job, but have fun," said Loggin.

One lesson Soderberg taught recruits was to approach policing as a privilege. Some of his graduates carried a photograph of the class on Thursday to remember the experience.

"He was a great leader, a role model, he was a compassionate man," said Officer Andre Harris, who Soderberg trained. "He cared about everyone."

A classmate, Officer Michael Kennedy, was voted top recruit by his peers. He said Soderberg's power for inspiration is not being overblown, and Kennedy would not have achieved what's memorialized on the award's plaque without his mentor.

"I am going to have professionalism like he displayed, integrity, honesty, just help people, you know, help humanity," said Kennedy.

Daley used the occasion to defend the city's new gun laws as he remembered Soderberg and what he should mean to his students.

"The real heroes, Officer Thor Soderberg and many others across North America, that gave their life in serving and protecting the police officer, I will pray for you. I will pray for your careers as members of the Chicago Police Department," said the mayor.

The mayor and the superintendent implored the new officers to protect their reputations and live as role models. They warned their lives and actions, as police officers, will be scrutinized 24-7.

The mayor said that a new fund through the Chicago Community Trust set up in Officer Soderberg's name will help inner city kids experience nature.

Loudon said her husband would not have approved of the attention being given to him personally after his death. However, even if he had known that he would die on duty, she said that he still would have forged ahead with his work.


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