Remember Officer Friendly in Independence? He had quite an impact

Bill Althaus

Al Rudd smiles at the memory of days gone by. 

As he sits in his living room, a beam of sunlight magnifies the face of a man who had a positive impact on countless elementary school children in Eastern Jackson County in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Al Rudd was Officer Friendly in Independence from 1970 to 1994.

Rudd, now 90, holds a photo of a dashing young Independence Police Department officer who is standing next to his cruiser. 

"I was out of the academy 10 days and I caught my first burglar," he said, as he sorted through an envelope to find the photo of that rookie police officer. 

"He'd robbed a Western Auto store, and my partner and I ran him down without any trouble. He was with another guy, and one's wife and one's girlfriend were involved and we caught all four of them. It was a big night for a rookie!" 

While that memory lingers, it pales in comparison to his role as Office Friendly, the larger-than-life officer who visited preschool through third grade classes from 1970 to 1994.  

Take a look at some of the notations made on the Independence Police Department Throwback Facebook page: 

"I thought Officer Friendly was the coolest." 

"I don't think any one of us as kids would forget Officer Friendly, he was the best." 

"Officer Friendly was amazing." 

"The Independence Police Department could not have picked a better man to be Officer Friendly." 

"I learned a lot from him. He kind of took me under his wing and made me the man I am today." 

This is a wood carving by Al Rudd, who was Officer Friendly in the Independence Police Department from 1970 to 1994. He now works with other wood carvers twice a week at the Sermon Center in Independence. The bear represents William Chrisman High School. Rudd graduated from Chrisman in 1949.

Even Independence Police Department Deputy Chief Ken Jarnagin recently talked about how Officer Friendly influenced him to be a police officer. 

"Oh my gosh, there are so many officers I've met over the years, I can't even imagine how many were youngsters who met Officer Friendly and wanted to become policemen," Rudd said. 

Rudd smiles when asked about the impact on countless youngsters, as he taught them everything from how to be safe when they were playing outside to the importance of respecting their parents. 

"You know, when we started the program, I visited with kindergartners, but I could sense that they were a little bit afraid of me – in my uniform and everything – so I went back to the police department and said we need to start with the younger kids. So I started going to visit with the pre-kindergartners, some 2- and 3-year-olds, and that really made an impact.” 

"I'd start talking, and someone would say, 'They're too young to know what you're talking about,' and I'd say just wait. And before long you could tell they were understanding, and could answer some questions, and when they went to kindergarten, they remembered me and we had a good old time." 

Many teachers would have youngsters draw and color photos that they gave to Rudd, and he chuckles when he thinks back to those days. 

"Now, I'm a tall fellow, and I'd go into their class and they would be sitting on the floor, so all they really saw were my long legs," he said. "So all the photos are of this guy with really long legs and a very short body. I wish I still had some of those drawings. They just make me smile when I think about them." 

He would talk about safety and respect and he made sure that youngsters felt like officers were their friend and talk about bike etiquette and other important tips. 

"I just feel so blessed that my chief called me into his office back in 1970 and asked me if I would be interested in the Officer Friendly program," he said. 

"I know it made an impact on many lives, including my own." 

Today, he stays active by attending wood carving classes at the Sermon Center two days a week and making regular visits to the Palmer Center.