Cruising downtown Salina with his wife and three youngsters, Glen Kochanowski witnessed teens tossing trash from a car.

The off-duty Salina police officer turned his prized 1967 Camaro around and followed, while his wife Vivian questioned her spouse’s motives.

“I’m following these kids. That’s unacceptable,” she remembered him saying.

He pulled over the car and told the teens to return to the scene of their crime and clean up their mess.

“I said, ‘What makes you think they will,’ and he said ‘They will,’ ” Vivian Kochanowski recalled.

“And they did,” she said Saturday, surrounded by family and friends, as they celebrated her husband's life.

Kochanowski, 76, the Saline County Sheriff for 20 years, died at his home Saturday after a 13-month battle with kidney failure and liver issues.

Kochanowski may have been sheriff for 20 years, but he wore a badge for 51. Before that, the Pittsburgh, Pa. native served in the U.S. Navy.  It’s where he met and fell in love with Vivian French, a native Kansan, who was a Navy nurse.

“He was my hero,” said Sean Kochanowski, Glen’s youngest of three children, and a Saline County sheriff’s deputy.

Sean and most of the Kochanowski family was with the former Sheriff when he passed.

“I was at his feet, crying. You could see some peace come across his face when he took his last breath. You could see the pain was gone, and that’s what matters,” Sean Kochanowski said. “I found peace in that, too.”

As word circulated through Salina, people who worked in law enforcement with Glen Kochanowski shared memories of the big burly man who both commanded attention and won people over with his compassion.

“Glen never met a stranger. He was just a very gregarious guy,” said Jim Hill, of Tulsa, Okla. He was Salina Police Chief from 1991 to Oct.1, 2013. Glen Kochanowski was his assistant chief until 1996.

“He just had a way with people. Policing is a people business, dealing with people and their problems, and Glen was very good at it,” Hill said. “I remember him as a gentle giant of a man, with a larger-than-life personality. I observed him a lot dealing with people. He was tough and demanding, also gentle and kind.”

Sister Mary Lou Roberts, a local social worker, joined in reminiscing Saturday at the Kochanowski home, and shared her awkward introduction to the imposing lawman.

“I was complaining about police brutality. A young couple came to me about this big guy,” Roberts said. “That was in 1975.”

She went to the law enforcement center and met with Darrell Wilson, believed to be the assistant police chief at the time. Kochanowski was in the room as they visited.

“I talked about a big guy with a strange name and (Wilson) asked 'Was it Kochanowski?' I said 'Yes, that's it,'" Roberts said. "And he said, ‘Sister, I’d like you to meet Lt. Kochanowski.'"

She rode on patrol with the lieutenant several times, and they became close friends.

Carson Mansfield, who retired as Salina Police Chief on Dec. 13, 2013, remembered interviewing for the police department while then-Chief John Woody played the “bad guy,” and Kochanowski played the “good guy.”

“They gave you impossible questions,” Mansfield said. “I had affection for Kochanowski. To me, he was a leveling force with the PD. He used a lot of reason, especially during the Woody days. He always had a sort of bigger-than-life presence. When he was in the room, he was someone to be reckoned with.”

Mansfield recalled once when Kochanowski slugged him in the shoulder.

“I spun around and hit him in the chest,” Mansfield recalled. “When I saw him last week, I apologized about that, and he pointed to his chest and said ‘You got me right there.’ Glen was sharp to the end.”

You always knew when Kochanowski was around, said current Saline County Sheriff Roger Soldan. He replaced Kochanowski on Jan. 9, 2017.

“The thing that sticks out the most with me, was how when somebody did something wrong you knew it, and he could give you a pretty good lecture,” Soldan said. “But when he was done, it was over, and you knew before you left his office, that as long as you didn’t to it again, you were good.”

Deputies knew who was in charge at the sheriff’s department, he said, but Kochanowski was never afraid to embrace a suggestion.

“As I moved up in rank, he was very open in letting you try new ideas as long as he understood what you were trying to do,” Soldan said.

Kochanowski left as a respected member of the law enforcement community, Hill said.

Hill called him “Koke” for short and considered him a friend and a “consummate law enforcement professional, who served Salina and Saline County with honor for more than 50 years.”

Hill only recently learned of Kochanowski’s illness and was shocked Saturday to learn of his friend’s death.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Vivian and his family,” Hill said. “We are all diminished by his passing.”

Glen Kochanowski was known for his strong devotion to family, and often attended events involving his grandchildren.

Vivian Kochanowski likened her husband to “Horton the Elephant,” a Dr. Seuss character from the 1954 book, “Horton Hears a Who!”

“Horton says, 'I said what I meant, and I meant what I said.’ That Elephant’s faithful, 100 percent,” Vivian Kochanowski said. “Now doesn’t that sound just like Glen?”

 

• Funeral arrangements will be announced.