When Norman Rutan walks into a room, the people in it can’t help but stop. Maybe it’s his stature — he’s a tall man. Maybe it’s the way he speaks — he greets everyone he knows by name. Whatever it is, no doubt, you can just feel you’re in the presence of someone special.
And the man who already has so many accolades on his CV now has something new to add — he’s Kearny’s Veteran of the Year for 2019 and he and other veterans from other Hudson municipalities will be feted next month at a special ceremony in Secaucus.
Rutan’s veteran status dates back to the Korean War. (He calls it the Korean Conflict.) It was then that he was a member of the United States Air Force, where he served for several years in Germany as an airplane mechanic. Though there was a draft at the time, he signed up on his own. He wanted to be of service to his country.
“On leave, I got to travel to France among other places,” he says.
Later in life, as he researched his family history — he does this, now, for other people via ancestry.com — he’d learn he’d visited a country his family left during the time of the Mayflower voyage to the New World in the 1620s. He was fascinated by that since at the time, he was unaware of his family lineage.
And yet, his military service is only small part of what makes up the life that is Rutan’s. Long after his Air Force service, Rutan says he was reading this newspaper — circa 1969-70 — when he noticed an advertisement calling on residents to take the test for the Kearny Police Department. Rutan says he and his wife, Teresa, had a discussion about the test.
“She told me I should take it,” Rutan says. “So I took it and I finished fourth.”
With his success on the written test, Rutan went on to the Bergen County Police Academy up in Mahwah. If you can imagine, the program at the academy was just eight weeks long back then. Now, it’s more than 20 weeks.
“It was a lot different,” Rutan recalls. “After just eight weeks of training, there were were, right on the streets of Kearny. There was a program called LEEP that allowed police officers to go to school to get a degree. I took advantage of that eventually.” He got a criminal justice and sociology bachelor’s degree at Montclair State College (now University.)
But right out of the academy, his first few years on the job were a lot different than what we see from police departments today.
“I pounded the beat — foot patrol — the first few years,” Rutan says. It was 1970.
He noted that as part of his patrol, he didn’t have so much as a walkie-talkie. Instead, and some of the long-time residents here may recall this, there were a series of call boxes on street corners. Every hour on patrol, starting at the Belleville Turnpike and working his way south along Kearny Avenue, the foot-patrol officers had to call into headquarters from each box, once an hour, ending up near Bergen and Kearny avenues.
“It wasn’t easy and if we didn’t call in, we got our you know what handed to us,” Rutan says. “But we did it. Most of the time. And it was how we found out if there were any calls we needed to go to.”
Kind of hard to imagine such a system today, isn’t it?
After a few years of foot patrol, Rutan says he was moved into a radio car. It made the job a bit more enjoyable because it was easier to get around and communication with HQ was simpler. Then, a few years after that, Rutan wound up in the Detective Bureau, where he’d spend the rest of his career, up to his retirement, in 1994.
We asked Rutan what his most memorable crime was while in the DB — and without hesitation, he says, “the Russian guy who killed his son-in-law.”
He clearly recalled the case. The killer, who was ultimately declared incompetent to stand trial to face murder charges, rammed his son-in-law down with his vehicle, sending him flying into the air to his untimely death. It happened near the intersection of Belgrove Drive and Bergen Avenue, where both lived (in the same home.)
In investigating the case, he learned the man came to Kearny via Germany — and was apparently brainwashed and not well mentally — most of his life here.
“I spoke to a woman who said in broken English, ‘he go out, people don’t come home,’” Rutan says. Though there was no proof, the thought among the detectives investigating the crime with Rutan — Detectives Bernie Hanson and the late Andy Lynch — was that he more than likely committed other murders and major crimes. Significant money was found in his accounts, with no way to trace its origins. It was a lot more than the guy earned in his lifetime.
Rutan and his comrades, meanwhile, found the car used in the crime under a ramp to Rt. 280 in Harrison. They learned he rarely parked his car near his home on Belgrove Drive. He would, on occasion, walk more than a mile to get home. But once they found the car, they knew they had their suspect, who would end out his years on this planet institutionalized at taxpayer expense. Rutan wasn’t exactly sure when the guy died — but he was certain he did.
Now, having been retired for 25 years, Rutan spends many days doing research when families want to trace their histories. In fact, he’s proud to say he was able to let Dave Moran, of Moran Towing, and Council President Carol Jean Gaunt Doyle, know where their families originated.
“People find me through ancestry.com,” he says.
It all began a few years after retirement when his son gave Rutan an older model computer around 1996. The Internet was still in its public infancy, but using a dial-up AOL connection, he was able to do some research. Then he visited the Passaic County Historical Society, where he became a research volunteer, and was able to use their historical records to learn more information.
In all, Rutan remains in excellent health and great shape — he goes to the gym a few times a week.
“I used to go to HQ to work out but now that’s some kind of evidence room,” he says. “But I am happy to keep active.”
And now, 60+ years after he first left America for Germany, his lifetime of achievement and service to others, has all led to an honor he probably should have gotten a long, long time ago — Kearny’s finest veteran.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.