Ryan McDonald

Hermosa Beach police, city spruce up bench honoring long-time volunteer

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Tom Moberly, left, his dog Hopper and HBPD Officer George Brunn sit in front on a bench honoring Moberly’s late wife, in front of a newly planted tree. Photo by Ryan McDonald

by Ryan McDonald

Walkers, joggers and resolution-makers can find a serene place to take a break or stretch along Green Belt in North Hermosa Beach in 2017. Thanks to a fortuitous encounter, a memorial bench near Longfellow Avenue has some improved scenery.

The bench, one of several to dot the trail in Hermosa Beach, honors the memory of Jan Barylski, who volunteered with the Hermosa Beach Police Department until succumbing to cancer on Dec. 24, 2011. Last month, shortly before the fifth anniversary of Barylski’s death, the city removed a rotting tree and installed a new young olive tree in its place.

The cleaned up memorial is pleasing to Barylski’s widower Tom Moberly, who lives just up the street. But equally heartening is the way the HBPD, the organization to which Barylski was so dedicated, helped make it happen.

Following his wife’s passing, Moberly applied to the city through an existing program to install memorial benches along the Green Belt. The wooden bench features a plaque describing Barylski — “Beautiful, kind, loving, generous,” it reads. But after a few years, a tree near the bench died, and was beginning to tilt with rot. It made the bench less desirable to look at, Moberly said, and he worried that the tree could tip over while someone was sitting there.

He wanted to do something about it, but was uncertain how to navigate the city’s bureaucracy. So things stood until one morning last month when Moberly began talking with HBPD Officer George Brunn.

Brunn was driving by in his patrol car, and stopped when he saw Moberly grabbing his newspaper. He chose to stop, he said, because of the increased emphasis that Chief Sharon Papa has put on “community policing.”

“Chief Papa put up a map of every street in town, and we get to highlight a block when we stop and talk with a resident,” Brunn said.

The two had met only once before, a brief encounter at a memorial service for Barylski held on the beach at the foot of Longfellow. The two began talking, and once Moberly learned how long Brunn had been with the department, he realized that the officer likely knew his wife.

After retiring, Barylski had joined the Volunteers in Policing (VIP) program, an HBPD program that allows community members to give back by assisting the department, such as during special events.

Her volunteer efforts, Moberly said, began with the Neighborhood Watch program, and stemmed from a desire to get more deeply involved in her community. Having come to Hermosa from the Midwest, she sometimes found it hard to meet people.

But her volunteer efforts quickly took her beyond “just bumping into people,” Moberly said, and their home became a gathering spot for the city’s public safety devotees.

“There would be just dozens and dozens of people at our house — a lot of pizzas ordered,” he laughed. “It was so heartwarming.”

Barylski’s dedication left a mark on Brunn. He remembered her from past events. He and Moberly reminisced over some of her favorite volunteer opportunities, like helping the department’s equestrian units during a training exercise at the Pomona Fairgrounds.  

“A lot of VIPs, it can be hit or miss. She showed up whenever she was needed, and she participated as much as she could,” Brunn said.

Brunn told Moberly he would look into the issue, and spoke to Ells Freeman, the city’s superintendent of public works. Within days, the city had cleared the dead tree. And Freeman found a spare boxed tree among the city’s stocks, and had it installed.

Brunn found it highly appropriate that the organization to which Barylski had dedicated her time could help honor her memorial. He said that the the approaching fifth anniversary of her death, combined with an increased focus on community policing getting officers out of patrol cars, meant that the “stars were aligned” for the site’s beautification.

“Unfortunately, citizens typically don’t interact with police unless it’s on a negative level,” Brunn said.

Moberly was so surprised at the quick turnaround that he went by the police department, looking to thank Brunn for setting the process in motion.

“I don’t interact much with police officers, but this was different,” he said. “It demonstrates kindness, attention and respect. Jan would have really appreciated it.”

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