Lower Burrell renames Wolf Pack Park for fallen Officer Derek Kotecki
Rich Kotecki remembers Lower Burrell's Wolf Pack Park as Sokol Camp,where his young son took gymnastics classes.
Now, people will forever connect the park with the man that boy grew up to be.
Lower Burrell Council on Monday renamed the park as “K-9 Officer Derek Kotecki Memorial Park.”
It was done as a tribute to Kotecki, a city police officer who was killed by a fugitive he was trying to apprehend nearly two years ago.
“We're just overwhelmed with what is going to happen — the whole family, to honor him that way,“ Rich Kotecki said. “It is going to be a tribute to all law enforcement officers in the Valley.”
Mayor Don Kinosz said the honor is something that council has been discussing and planning for some time. He said city officials, however, wanted to be sensitive to the wishes of Kotecki's widow, Julie, as well as his father and mother, Elizabeth “Dolly” Kotecki.
“It was soon after Derek passed that they talked about it,” said Rich Kotecki, who once served on council for six years.
He said his daughter-in-law agreed that it would be a nice tribute to Derek and his family but felt that it was something that should be delayed for a while.
“It was just too much at the time when it happened,” said Kotecki, who serves as the family spokesman. “It was a couple a weeks ago when we talked, and she said if they wanted to proceed she would be all right with that.
Kinosz said approving the resolution to approve the park was an emotionally conflicting experience for city officials.
“You had to be there because it encompasses the whole breadth of how you feel,” the mayor said. “You're so happy that this tribute is being done, but you're sad for why it's being done. We would much rather have Derek here than a memorial.
“There's no way that you can find a tribute that is enough,” Kinosz said. “It just turned out, in our minds, to be a very fitting one. He was raised in Lower Burrell; he was involved with sports; he was active in the community.
“Some day, his kids will take their kids there and show them that.”
Kotecki agreed that the tribute is fitting.
“Derek took gymnastics down there when it was Sokol Camp,” he said. “They had a building there then, and that's where he first took gymnastics lessons. They had a big crowd of kids who went there.”
He said his son also played softball there, usually in pick-up games with other police officers.
But there is even a deeper connection between the park and the Kotecki family. Mayor Kinosz said that Rich Kotecki was instrumental in acquiring the park for the city.
Kotecki said he and city zoning officer Mike Nedley were looking for a place where the city could hold a fall festival and thought the park, then owned by city resident Augie Moret, would be a good place.
“I approached Augie Moret about it, and that's when Augie suggested that the city buy it,” Kotecki said.
“Rich came to me and said, ‘Do you think we can do this?' ” Kinosz recalled. “We looked into it, and Augie Moret worked out a heck of a deal for us.”
The city acquired the park for $183,000, the price Moret paid for it — and the payment terms were for 20 years at no interest. Kinosz said the park is close to being paid off.
He said the park renovation and its development plan were designed by high school students in conjunction with architect Bill Herman are nearing completion.
The mayor said the next step will be to add a park pavilion and later, a band shell for concerts.
“It's primarily sports right now, and we want it to be more versatile,” Kinosz said.
As for a ceremony to rededicate the park in Derek Kotecki's honor, the mayor said there will be an informal event in mid-to-late September, when the Wolf Pack Park sign will be covered by a sign with its new name.
A committee, of which Rick Kotecki is a member, is in the midst of designing a new park entrance, which will be formally dedicated in a larger ceremony next spring, Kinosz said.
Rich Kotecki said he doesn't think the city could find a better way to honor his son.
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.