In the history of the Kearny Police Department, there are surnames that are almost synonyms with the KPD. There’s a long list of families who dedicated their lives to protecting the town — Corbett, Dowie, Wilson, Bloomer, Gouveia, King, Plaugic, are some of the first that come to mind.
One other surname, Poplaski, also fits here.
Ed Poplaski joined the force in 1961 and retired as a detective in 1987.
Two years later, Richard Poplaski Sr. joined in August 1989 and retired as a lieutenant in 2019.
And Richard Poplaski Jr., Policeman of the Year for heroic actions he took on one of his first days on the job, is the most recent to join the force, having been hired in July 2015.
And the Poplaskis have a generational story for the ages, one that started in Newark in 1962 and which ended back in Kearny via Scotland just last week.
Here’s the story and how it all developed, as told by Rich Jr., last week.
We first found out about it all after Kearny Council President Carol Jean Doyle saw it on Facebook.
It wasn’t too long ago when this epic tale started, maybe a few weeks ago. Like many, Rich Jr. has a presence on Facebook, and were it not for social media, perhaps none of this happens at all.
One day, checking his messages, Rich Jr. finds a peculiar note from a woman who claims she’s from the Old Country. (Parenthetically, there actually may be some who live here now who actually don’t know Kearny was once the Scotland of North America. In the 1800s, thousands of Scottish immigrants left their home and native land to find a better life in America and, in particular, in this small Town of Kearny, 9.33-square miles in area, but home to a booming manufacturing industry fueled by many originally from the north of the United Kingdom.)
To this day, it’s not uncommon to hear a Scottish accent. Heck, as recently as 1999, the town’s mayor, Peter J. McIntyre, had such an accent. But we digress.
When Rich Jr. gets this message, he says he is, at first, skeptical. After all, there are scammers across the globe, they prey for their daily bread regularly and they quite often use Facebook. So forgive Rich for being skeptical at first.
“As if 2020 hasn’t been weird enough, this happens,” he says. “But I looked her up and she didn’t appear to be sketchy.”
So he reads the letter — and the woman asks if he was related to an Ed Poplaski.
She didn’t know it because he didn’t volunteer it immediately, but Ed Poplaski is his grandfather, 81 today, and a member of the Kearny Police Department’s Academy Class of 1961. In fact, Ed is the second-eldest retired Kearny policeman still alive. Phil Reid, he says, takes the honors as the longest-surviving retiree.
So things are beginning to match — but again, who the heck is this lady — and why does she want to know of Rich’s relations to Ed?
Here’s where the story gets great.
The woman says, in her electronic message, that she spent about £4 — $6 U.S. Dollars — at a thrift shoppe in Scotland. Her purchase was of what is called a “dress blouse” that, to this day, though a bit different in color, is worn by police officers at special occasions. The patches on the sleeves — clearly Kearny Police Department. You can’t mistake it — it looks almost completely the same as it did 58 years ago.
Inside the blouse is a nametag, from Lee’s Clothiers, Newark.
Typed on it: Ed Poplaski … 1/1962.
This piece of clothing, worth more in a sentimental value than the £4 this woman paid for it, was, indeed, Ed Poplaski’s dress blouse from around his very first year on the job. And she found its owner’s grandson.
So here’s what happened next.
The woman says she’d like to send the uniform piece to New Jersey.
“I asked her how much she wanted for it, but she didn’t want anything,” Rich says. “All she asked for was a photo of the blouse with my grandpa holding it or wearing it.”
Unfortunately for Ed, it was just a little too small for him to wear it today. He was a bit lighter in 1962 — but not all that much, really.
So a few days ago, the blouse arrived at Kearny Police Headquarters on Laurel Avenue — and almost 60 years later, it was back in the same location it got its start. After a trip of about 3,000 miles.
Speaking of that trip, we were wondering how it got to Europe.
“The uniform dress blouses weren’t cheap, so it was common for them to be passed down for new officers,” Rich says. “They were hung in the locker room for the taking.”
Rich says Ed wasn’t sure how he lost contact with his blouse, but it was likely because of the aforementioned scenario of handing them down to help new officers save the expense of having to buy one brand new.
Still, it was a great overall experience for the three generations of Poplaskis who have served the KPD.
“It was very odd at first but it had a great ending,” Rich says.
A great ending, indeed.
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.