The Spokane Police Department has lost one of its finest.
Senior volunteer Eugene “Gene” LaLiberte, 91, will be remembered at a ceremony Friday morning. At his request, he will be laid to rest wearing his volunteer uniform.
Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said LaLiberte “will always have a place of honor” in the department.
“Gene was a pillar of volunteerism,” she said in a prepared statement. “He is irreplaceable and will be truly missed.”
LaLiberte, an honored Air Force veteran, began volunteering with the police in 1990. He also dressed as Santa Claus at Spokane International Airport each Christmas Eve for more than 30 years and played Officer McGruff, the crime-fighting dog, at local schools and charities.
He died last Friday at Deaconess Medical Center after being diagnosed last year with pulmonary fibrosis, his family said.
LaLiberte was named Spokane police volunteer of the year in 2006 and logged more than 40,800 hours in service to the organization, ending as the volunteer program’s co-director. He rode the bus to work each day.
A medal of merit he received from the police department is among community service awards that range from recognition for his work in blood drives to honors from a national volunteer organization.
LaLiberte earned the Iron Man award in 1998 after logging nearly 2,300 volunteer hours with the police department.
He’d won the award several times before but remained modest.
“We, as senior volunteers, are proud to serve,” he said, according to a Spokesman-Review story in February 1999. “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing.”
LaLiberte was a 33-year military veteran and served during World War II, the Korean War and in Vietnam.
He retired as a sergeant major and worked 11 years at Fairchild Credit Union.
But LaLiberte’s career as a volunteer began much earlier. Starting in about 1950, he delivered doughnuts from a Spokane shop to local hospitals and nursing homes.
He also frequently wrote the White House and national figures to inform them of people who were celebrating anniversaries of 50 or more years. Willard Scott of the “Today” show once heeded his request and honored a senior police volunteer on his 100th birthday, according to an interview with LaLiberte published in The Spokesman-Review in 2003.
LaLiberte is survived by his wife, Jackie, a son, three daughters, two stepchildren, 16 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. He loved spending time with family at a cabin he built at Twin Lakes, Idaho.
Granddaughter Lana Briggs Miller described him as “so organized and keen all the way to the end of his life.”
“My grandfather personified the Golden Rule,” Miller said in an e-mail. “He was one in a million.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter