VILLA GROVE — After three decades wearing a badge and carrying a gun, Dennis Gire will not miss handling domestic disputes or 2 a.m. phone calls.
He will miss the joy of “finding lost animals and returning them to their owners.”
The Villa Grove police officer who grew up just south of the town he’s been protecting since August 1989 will retire at 3 p.m. today.
Gire, who will be 65 soon, has been chief of police for the last 27 years and is now ready to stay home and do yard work. He also has the added attraction of his longtime girlfriend’s recently born twin great-grandsons.
An aspiring police officer from the age of 8, the Camargo native said he first had a couple “crappy jobs” before he got into law enforcement.
“I drove a propane truck and delivered gas,” he said, adding he attended Parkland College for an associate degree in criminal justice. It took him four years to complete the two-year program.
“I got off work at Thermogas at 5 and had to be at Parkland at 6,” he said. After getting his degree in 1988, he began applying for police jobs.
A city father in Villa Grove brought him in for an interview and got a little testy when Gire responded that if he never got hired, he couldn’t gain the experience that an employer desired.
“I was trying to answer as best as I can,” Gire said, adding that his interviewer called him a slightly coarser version of smart aleck then left the room.
Gire kept quiet and when the interviewer returned, he said: “I wanted to see how you’d react. If you got mad, you wouldn’t have gotten the job.”
That laid-back demeanor has worked pretty well for Gire, who said in all his years on the job, he never fired his weapon, except to train.
“I had to pull it twice on felony stops — a vehicle theft and a home invasion.”
The latter happened a couple of years ago, he said, and involved two men who had forced their way into a home in Newman then fled through Villa Grove.
“I stopped them. They were cooperative, but considering that they just did a home invasion and I had them at gunpoint …,” he said.
Beth Elston, the police department secretary who’s worked there as long as Gire, said her boss and colleague has always had an “easy-going personality.”
“But when it comes to getting down to business, he is all business. He’s very fair-minded. Not in all the years have I heard an officer ever complain about him,” said Elston.
Gire oversees a department of five full-time officers.
Floods, fires and explosives stand out as memorable.
Gire had been chief about a year when eight inches of rain in about six hours sent the Embarras River out of its banks, flooding a large portion of the center of town.
“I actually stayed awake 36 hours,” he recalled of that spring in 1994. “I was out there on the west edge of town turning traffic around on the Hayes Road. I was stuck on the west side of town a good 24 hours.”
With great help from the late Joe Victor, the Emergency Management Agency director, and retired Illinois State Trooper Kirk Rogers of Villa Grove, Gire said proudly “nobody got hurt, there were no injuries, no drownings, no electrocutions.”
He also recalls vividly August 2011 when two juveniles admitted to him setting a fire in an abandoned building on Main Street that changed the landscape of downtown. It took several years for the rubble to be cleaned up.
“They’re not juveniles anymore. They are still paying restitution,” he said.
He also recalled a bizarre incident in June 1998 when a man had several explosive devices in his mobile home that he intended to use against an employer.
Gire said he feels he’s leaving law enforcement at the right time and is happy to help his brother keep their late father’s property in Camrago mowed, work in his own yard, and figure out how to operate his newly-acquired smart phone.
“I really don’t have a bucket list,” he said, adding that his girlfriend, Sandra Henry, has been pretty patient for the 36 years they’ve been together.
“She’s been very supportive of the nights I’ve worked. I can’t remember how many times I said, ‘No. We can’t do this.’ You really have no personal life,” he said.
Bob Rea, who worked as a Champaign police officer 21 years before retiring in November 2016, was hired two weeks ago at a salary of $65,000 a year to replace Gire. He also served as Thomasboro police chief for six months in 2018.
Rea began last week and takes over as chief at 3 p.m. today.