Versatile Williamsburg police chief embraces role

WILLIAMSBURG – Rowdy Kagarise has worn many hats in his life, but the one that seems to fit the best is that of police chief.

Kagarise, 53, has been Williamsburg’s police chief for the two years, fulfilling a lifelong dream of earning a job in law enforcement.

In fact, when Kagarise went for training at the Municipal Regional Police Academy in Johnstown, he did that in a rare way, entering the academy with his son, Brent, who is now a police officer in Huntingdon Borough.

“It wasn’t something that happened every day, that you had a father and son in the academy together,” Kagarise said, adding that his son was OK with having his dad take classes with him.

Kagarise wasn’t born in Williamsburg, but in Fort Walton, Fla., (which is two and half hours from Tallahassee), where his parents held civil service jobs working on missile systems. Florida is also where Kagarise got his first name, from an uncle who lived in the Sunshine State and liked “Rawhide,” the TV Western series of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The character played by Clint Eastwood was named “Rowdy Yates’,’ and apparently the uncle liked the show and the name, Kagarise said.

Kagarise also said he isn’t directly related to Blair County Assistant District Attorney Wade Kagarise, although the two have speculated they could be related in some way because their names are the same.

Rowdy Kagarise’s parents grew up in the Williamsburg area, and their relatives were still living in the small Pennsylvania town. The family moved back here when Kagarise was in first grade, and later he graduated from Williamsburg Area High School. After high school, Kagarise got a job first working in his dad’s construction company.

In 1990, he started working as a custodian at the high school, where he ended up staying for the next 20 years, becoming supervisor of the custodian staff. It was a job he really liked, seeing the students every day and getting to know them, he said.

But a little more than 10 years ago, Kagarise felt there was something else out there for him, and he went to the police academy.

After receiving his certification, Kagarise took over for a retiring lieutenant on the Williamsburg police force, becoming the officer-in-charge, which he said is primarily an administrative role, answering any questions the other officers might have when on duty. He kept that job while still working at the high school. But two years ago, the police chief job became open and Kagarise moved up, retiring from his school post.

At first, he was the only full-time police officer, but recently Borough Council approved the addition of a second full-time officer, which Kagarise said helps his staff cover the territory. The borough’s police force also includes six part-time police officers.

“I feel we have a lot better coverage now, and I feel there’s a lot better service to the community,” Kagarise said.

The challenge of patrolling a rural area such as Williamsburg can be more difficult geographically than covering a city such as Altoona, where police departments are closer together because response times in emergencies can be as long 12 minutes, Kagarise said. The closest municipalities are Martinsburg and Roaring Spring. But he said for the most part, the crime rate in Williamsburg is pretty low.

However, he said it does take awhile to get used to being a cop in your hometown. Kagarise said it’s not that he finds it difficult to arrest people he knows, but there is a learning curve to getting used to it.

“It takes a little attitude adjustment,” he said.

But overall, Kagarise is very proud of the town he’s grown up in, he said.

“I just think a lot of times people don’t look at the everyday things that we have to offer, all the things we have going on here,” he said.

Aside from his police work, Kagarise is also involved with missionary work, something he got involved with more than 20 years ago starting with a mission to Mexico. Challenged by a missionary who said most people don’t go to the hard places in the world, Kagarise, and sometimes with his wife of 30 years, Gaydawn, has gone to some really tough places such as Haiti, Indonesia and Egypt. He has helped train other missionaries and continues to raise money for missionary work in addition to going on missions himself through his own group.

“I basically felt God wanted me to get things started,” Kagarise said.

Dave Cadle, a retired Williamsburg banker who has known Kagarise for several years, said the police chief is “definitely a hero of mine and definitely a hero of a lot of people.” Cadle helps run a religious group for youths called The Crossroad that helps raise money for Kagarise’s missions’ work.

“I don’t think the man has a selfish bone in his body,” Cadle said