by Don White, CJ Features Correspondent Commonwealth Journal
How likely was it that Gerald Meece of Colo, Kentucky, and Larry Wholecheese of Galena, Alaska, would one day cross paths? In Alaska. In a life-threatening situation.
Such a scenario would probably never have crossed the mind of Meece during his years of growing up in Pulaski County.
Not while the son of the late Tony and Alice Meece was attending the one-room Jones School, services at Wesley’s Chapel Methodist Church, or Pulaski High.
The journey to Alaska began in 1961, when he joined the Air Force following graduation.
A friendship was formed with a soldier who would start a business in the 50th state and have his Kentucky buddy up for fishing trips from time to time, starting in 1989.
The visits were great stress-relief for the man who began a career in law enforcement with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department in 1974, working under Sheriff John Adams and alongside the legendary Sam Catron.
In 1993, after having served as chief of police in Burnside for 10 years (1978-88) and as an officer and firefighter in Somerset, the mild-mannered lawman decided to move his family to Alaska.
He worked in various departments and locations before retiring as chief of police on Saint Paul Island in October of 2011.
Now 69, and living in East Somerset with his wife, Debbie, Meece is making plans to return to Alaska, perhaps in law enforcement.
If he does, he could find himself working with his son-in-law, Josh Norfleet. He and wife Alisa, 26, and a pharmacy technician at West Somerset Pharmacy, are contemplating a move there with Josh also pursing a job in law enforcement.
The Meeces also have a son, Jeremy, 22, of Somerset, and Gerald has a 46-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
His confrontation with Wholecheese, an armed man facing numerous charges, (who had a 12-hour standoff with Meece), is but one of dozens of memorable moments.
He has also survived service as president of the Burnside Little League.
Then, there was the town drunk in Burnside who, upon hearing he had been hired as chief, told him “I’m gonna whip you every day you’re down here.”
“I told him if he was going to do that, I’d have to go before the Council and ask for a raise because I couldn’t afford to take a daily whipping for what I was making,” says Meece, noting “Burnside was a lot like Mayberry.”
He recalls Wednesday nights being special in the only city on Lake Cumberland. That’s when bars in Tennessee would hold wet “t” shirt contests, and officers could always count on catching a few drunk drivers traveling through town.
Life wasn’t all work and no play in Burnside.
Lunch time would often find him at Burnside Elementary, having lunch with Principal Collis Simpson, one of his favorite teachers from Pulaski High days.
He also found time to earn his pilot’s license while taking classes in Monticello.
Being a pilot served him well in Alaska, where towns with any sizeable population are separated by hundreds of miles.
While serving at some remote outposts that had no jail, the officer would have to handcuff people he had arrested to a heavy object, like a table, and remain with them until a plane arrived from Fairbanks.
Drinking is a major problem in Alaska, according to Meece, and alcohol is something to which he is very opposed.
“Some people may say allowing legal sales of alcohol helps the economy, but it costs a community more than it makes,” he says.
Besides flying and fishing, the man who once wanted to be a park ranger, says one of his main forms of recreation in Alaska was driving out to remote Prince of Wales Island and listening to the howls of the wolves.
One thing his superiors never howled about was his job performance.
In his files are numerous letters, awards, and special citations regarding high standards of performance.
“Officer Meece is soft-spoken and very knowledgeable. His strongest quality is his professional demeanor and his enjoyment of working with kids,” reads one letter. He takes special satisfaction from his involvement with the DARE program.
Lately, collecting and restoring old vehicles has occupied much of his time.
Several are for sale, but there are plans for one in particular.
“When I go back to Alaska, I want to drive my ‘75 Ford.”