In the beginning, there were four.
The year was 1988, and the idea came from retired Chief Dave Michel, who got together with retired Sgt. Dwight Clark and Luther Mitchell to take retired Lt. Al Rogers, who was then battling cancer, to breakfast.
Word got out, and soon there were seven: Clark, Michel, Mitchell, Rogers, Jerry Sneegas, Marty Mitchell, and Dick Gray. After Rogers died in 1989, the men decided to make it a regular thing, and started meeting for breakfast every other week.
Since then, more than 250 Anaheim Police Department retirees have attended the Over the Hill Breakfast, with an average of 21 any given week, said Gray, who is the only one of the seven still able to attend. Founding member Michel died this past December.
“I think people that work together in police work become attached and just like to stay together and see each other,” Gray said. Gray’s son, retired Lt. Dennis Gray, started a similar tradition since retiring from the Brea Police Department.
The Over the Hill Breakfast invites the current chief of police, officers, and their wives annually in December at their usual haunt, Katella Grill. Retirees (such as Idaho residents retired Lt. John Cross and his wife Angela) come from all over the country to share “war stories” and visit friends.
“I remember a lot of these guys and gals when I first started,” Acting Chief Julian Harvey said. “These guys made Anaheim PD great. We’re just trying to carry on that tradition, that legacy.”
Many of the retirees wore a uniform most of their lives, moving from the United States Armed Forces into police work. Once you retire, though, rank has no bearing, said former Police Chief Jimmie Kennedy, who retired in 1987.
“It’s a bunch of people that get together and talk,” said Ed Thaete, one of the group’s organizers.
Retired Sgt. Gordon McConnell was in the Navy and worked as a police officer in Illinois before joining Anaheim PD.
“We used to talk about girls, now we talk about our aches and pains,” jokes McConnell, who retired in 1990. “I love these guys. We went through a lot of stuff together.”
McConnell joined the Anaheim PD the same day as retired Sgt. Larry Kurtz, who shared a story about his friend:
“One night, we had a barricaded guy in a house with a knife,” Kurtz said. “(McConnell) runs up to the door and he kicks the door, and his leg goes clear through the door. It was stuck! It wouldn’t come out, and all the other policemen ran around him.”
“After we captured the guy, we go back and pull his leg out,” said Kurtz, who worked at Anaheim PD for 34 years and retired in 1998.
Colleen Reeves, wife of the late Chris Reeves, has her own war story. Her husband was on the graveyard shift when she went into labor with their fourth child. When she called the station to reach Reeves, she was told he was in a barricade situation, but they’d pass along her message.
“He raced home,” she said. “The nurse was waiting. He dropped me off and he was gone. Then, when he was done with his shift, he came to the hospital.”
Seeing him with his wife and new baby, the nurse commented on how emotional Reeves looked.
“He didn’t have the heart to tell her it was because they had to mace the guy that he was tearing up,” she said. “It was funny. That was my most exciting birth.”
Kurtz, who worked at Anaheim PD for 34 years and retired in 1998, delivered a baby while on duty.
“The ambulance was lost; he was running in circles. I was what they call ‘the catcher,’” Kurtz said. “I caught the baby… The kid came out crying, a healthy little boy.”
Gray, the group’s secretary, emails the meeting dates annually and keeps track of contact information for the retirees. Many say Gray is the glue that keeps the group together.
“If it wasn’t for him, this thing would fall apart,” Kurtz said.
Gray and the other Over the Hill Breakfasters are the foundation of the current Anaheim PD, said Edgar Hampton, president of the Anaheim Police Association.
“These are the guys that started it all,” Hampton said. “These are guys that had revolvers and no air conditioning in the cars. Police work is police work, but it’s fascinating to see the differences. One day, it’ll be me sitting on one of these chairs, talking about ‘back in my day.’”
“We love being here,” Harvey said. “It’s that connection to a part of their lives that was impactful. When you do this job long enough, it kind of becomes part of you and it always will be.”
The next breakfast will be held at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 16 at Katella Grill.