Never The Same: A Tribute to Kenneth Novak, Jr.

Sometimes things happen in life that leave you dumbfounded.  There is no explanation, no comfort, no nothing.  Period.

Kenny Novak

On April 8, 1992, my cousin Kenny volunteered for a shift even though he wasn’t scheduled to work.  He was a full-time dispatcher for the Village of Lansing (Illinois), a special part-time police officer and a paramedic.  He and his partner had stopped to check on a disabled vehicle.   It was then that they were fired upon.  Kenny was shot and his partner, also shot, returned fire and fatally shot the gunman.  His partner survived his wounds; Ken did not.  He was 27.

From the Officer Down Memorial Page:

Officer Kenneth Novak was shot and killed while investigating a suspicious vehicle at 172nd Street and Oak Avenue.

At 10:00 pm, Officer Novak had approached the vehicle and questioned its female occupant, who provided false identification. After returning to his squad car, a male subject emerged from a nearby wooded area and began firing six shots, wounding both Officer Novak and another officer. The other officer was able to return fire twice, killing the male suspect instantly. Officer Novak was transported to The Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, where he died from his wounds despite wearing a bullet-resistant vest.

The male suspect, who was under house arrest for aggravated battery, had stolen a car and fled from Indianapolis with the female accomplice. She was later found guilty of attempted murder of the wounded officer and sentenced to 27 years in prison, but was found not guilty of the first-degree murder of Officer Novak.

Officer Novak had served with the Lansing Police Department for over eight years, beginning as a police cadet in December 1983, before becoming a part-time officer in April 1986. He also served as a full-time dispatcher and certified paramedic with the department. Officer Novak was survived by his parents and sister.

There is also a Facebook Page that has been set up to honor Ken.

Ken had always known that he wanted to be a police officer.  He would use his bicycle as a his ‘police vehicle’ with the neighborhood kids – until he finally became part of the Lansing Police Force years later.

Even though Kenny and I grew up in the same town and he was only 3 years older than I, we only saw each other at family picnics – once a year at best.  Yet he lives on in my mind.  I am sometimes taken aback by how much I think about him, considering our families weren’t all that close.  Kenny loved trains and fishing.  As a young girl and into my teenage years, that’s not what I remember about Kenny.  I remember the guitar.

Ken NovakAround 1980 or 1981, I had picked up the guitar.  I have no idea why, but I brought it to our family picnic that August.  I mentioned this to Kenny’s father.  Next thing I know, he is calling for Kenny to come over.  Both of them then insisted that I get my guitar out of the car.  They wanted to hear me play.  I went and got it.  I don’t think I was very good (I could play maybe 4 ‘real’ songs), but you wouldn’t know that by the way Kenny acted.  He encouraged me and you would have thought that I was the next new guitar talent!  He also played a song or two for me.  I will never forget that.  I can tell you what I had on, what Kenny had on, which picnic table we were sitting at, etc.  Truly amazing?  When you are an awkward 13-year-old and a 16-year-old boy is telling you how great you are…

…well… it never leaves you (cousin or no cousin!).  He was just an overall nice guy.

Kenny, you left a lot of people who you’d had an impact on – and continue to have an impact on – even though you aren’t physically with us.  It’s hard to believe it has been 21 years.

Rest in Peace and we’ll see you on the other side.

I think I’m going to go and get my guitar (yes, I still have it) and play a very poor rendition of ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles or ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin, two of the songs that I had played for Ken that day.

Additional Articles:
Area Cops Pay Respects To One of Their Own
Fallen Officer ‘always wanted to be a policeman’
Woman Convicted of 2 Counts in Lansing Officer’s Killing
A Routine Stop Is Cop’s Last One
Officer Down Memorial Page

About Our Lineage

I invite you to join me as I share my journey of successes, surprises, and of course, disappointments. All belong to my passion called Genealogy.
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11 Responses to Never The Same: A Tribute to Kenneth Novak, Jr.

  1. Laura Hedgecock says:

    I’m always amazed at people who, from a young age, have an urge to protect and serve. Such a tragic loss. Your writing is such a wonderful tribute to him.
    Laura Hedgecock

  2. Matthew says:

    I am also a police dispatcher, and this story breaks my heart. Thank you for sharing his story with me!

    • Our Lineage says:

      Thank you for taking the time to not only read, but to also comment on, my post. While heartbreaking, we are consoled that he died doing what he loved to do. Thank you as well – for your contribution to your community!


  3. Su Leslie says:

    That’s a beautiful tribute to your cousin. Music can be so healing; and I’m glad you have shared this so that we can also remember and honour Ken. Thank you.

  4. A tragic story, and it sounds like a complete accident. Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time. They tried to help out that couple, who were desperate and depraved enough to shoot at the officers. It is a blessing that you have the memory at the picnic to hold on to. There is nothing like the bond created by music, especially if you’re playing it yourself. I’ve always loved the song “Yesterday.”

    • Our Lineage says:

      Yes. We had picnics every year, but I usually hung out with a much older generation – getting stories! It was ‘my thing’ even then!
      Definitely the wrong place at the wrong time. Even a few minutes could have changed the outcome.

      Thanks for reading, Mariann. I always appreciate hearing from you!

  5. What a heartbreaking, yet lovely, tribute to a young man with so much potential. Though you can never forget the way Kenny died, your memory of playing guitar with him as a young teen will always warm your heart. This post will also contribute to keeping his memory alive for those who knew and loved him.

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