Countless fond memories honor the life of North Brunswick Police Director Ken McCormick

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PHOTOS BY JENNIFER AMATO/STAFF
Law enforcement officers salute North Brunswick Police Director Kenneth McCormick during his funeral service on Sept. 9 at North Brunswick Community Park.

NORTH BRUNSWICK – Joseph Battaglia and Kenneth McCormick were friends for 50 years – so naturally, Battaglia was choked up sharing 50 years of memories during McCormick’s memorial service on Sept. 9.

Hundreds of family members, friends and residents packed the Great Lawn at North Brunswick Community Park to bid farewell to McCormick, the director of the North Brunswick Police Department, who passed away on Sept. 2 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.

Battaglia, the police department’s deputy chief, said that if you were a good person, McCormick took you in – and if you weren’t such a good person, McCormick would give you a chance.

He called McCormick fearless, strong, smart, resourceful and confident – with a humorous side that included wearing a Fourth of July onesie and a Christmas package suit.

Battaglia said when he would get nervous speaking publicly, McCormick would yell, “Don’t cry” from the back of the room just to make him laugh.

He said although they often threatened to run away from their parents when they were younger, McCormick actually did one time, packing a bag and hitchhiking to South Carolina.

“It never seemed like work because I got to hang out with my best friend every day and get paid for it,” Battaglia said of working alongside McCormick for 34 years.

He recalled a night in the 1980s when they left a diner and saw a tractor-trailer that set off McCormick’s “Spidey senses.”

They wound up honing in on a major organized crime ring that was stealing birth control pills and selling them on the black market.

When in federal court in Newark to testify, Battaglia said a group of “teamsters” followed them into a bathroom and told them how unfortunate it would be if their mothers lost their sons.

Although Battaglia said he felt threatened, he said McCormick simply flipped them off and walked out.

McCormick, a North Brunswick Township High School graduate, joined the North Brunswick Police Department in September 1982 and graduated with the 38th Police Basic Training Class of the Middlesex County Police Academy.

After attending college for criminal justice, working for the township during the summer and having a landscaping business, he decided to pursue a career as a policeman.

McCormick was promoted to sergeant in 1995 and to lieutenant in 1999.

He served as the Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS) coordinator and held management positions in the police department’s Traffic Safety and Detective bureaus, Special Investigation Unit and Patrol Division.

Municipal officials reorganized the police department in 2004 and McCormick was appointed the director of public safety while still a lieutenant. 

In 2008, McCormick retired as a sworn officer after 25 years of service and served as the assistant to the mayor for six months. He then returned as the director of public safety as a civilian.

“He made the North Brunswick Police Department great again,” Battaglia said. “Nothing will be the same without him. Sail to the sky, my friend. I love you.”

Salvatore Filannino, captain of the Edison Police Department, who is the brother-in-law of Ken’s brother Mike and his wife Sharon, noted McCormick’s close relationship with Battaglia, North Brunswick Police Capt. Cory Harris, Gary Hirsch and longtime friend Mark LaMonica.

He noted how McCormick took care of his partner Chi as she battled ALS. He then thanked LaMonica for spending time to ease his pain, thanked Laura for making his final days happy, and said his daughters Erika and Marina always made him proud.

Filannino recalled a lot of family vacations, specifically mentioning a trip to Nashville. He said during a nighttime show, McCormick told him the group was a bit reserved and he should take it easy. Instead, Filannino started playing air guitar, then stood up and started to dance.

“Ken looked at me and said, ‘Really?’ ” he laughed.

Filannino said McCormick would be the first one to start a line dance or a chant, or be up for a theme night.

One time, McCormick created fluorescent yellow shirts that each had one letter on the back. At the end of the night, moving toward the front of the stage, the group stood up and spelled country artist Luke Bryan’s name with their shirts.

Battaglia said although McCormick liked to fly, one year he and Filannino decided to drive to Tennessee. He said McCormick told him that although Filannino started the drive, 30 minutes in he wanted to switch with McCormick, and McCormick wound up driving the entire way instead of just half.

Filannino reminisced about family luncheons at Dick’s Last Resort, sing-alongs across a bridge near a stadium in Nashville, and gathering in a circle and taking a knee in prayer to honor time spent with family.

“Clearly, Ken McCormick has made a lasting impression on all of us,” Filannino said.

Current Township Council President Ralph Andrews said it is clear you are a special person when members of the Middlesex County Police and Fire Pipes and Drums march past your house because you could not go out on St. Patrick’s Day.

“Ken McCormick spent his life in valued service to the town he grew up in,” Andrews said.

Andrews said the police director was a true leader and visionary. He said the township put cops in schools, added car cameras and body cameras, and became fully accredited, all under McCormick’s watch.

“The bottom line is, Ken loved his hometown and wanted to have the finest and most well-trained police force in town,” Andrews said.

On a friendly note, Andrews said they both enjoyed boating and lunching at Martell’s in Point Pleasant. One day, Andrews recalled, on the way back his boat started to overheat.

He said McCormick put on a life jacket, told the rest of the passengers to grab their own life jackets and to get ready to jump off. Speaking like a flight attendant, Andrews said, McCormick jokingly convinced everyone the boat was about to sink.

Andrews also remarked about McCormick’s love for music and said he agreed to see a group called The Naked Apes, a heavy metal concert that had “more ink than a newspaper.”

They also went to see Toby Keith in concert because McCormick loved country music for the life experiences it shares.

Quoting Luke Bryan’s song “Drink a Beer,” Andrews said, “When I got the news today I didn’t know what to say. So I just hung up the phone. I took a walk to clear my head. This is where the walking led. Can’t believe you’re really gone.

“Don’t feel like going home so I’m gonna sit right here on the edge of this pier, watch the sunset disappear. And drink a beer.

“Funny how the good ones go too soon but the good Lord knows the reasons why, I guess. Sometimes the greater plan is kinda hard to understand. Right now it don’t make sense. I can’t make it all make sense.”

Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack spoke on behalf of the entire township.
“There is a blessing that God reserves for a chosen few and that is ‘charisma.’ Charisma is that inexplicable something extra God gives to special people. You can’t help liking a charismatic person, you just can’t. Ken had a double dose. It came across in the way his eyes sparkled with fun and passion. His relaxed, but calculated presence was infectious and it did, in fact, put a spell on all of us who knew him.

“Rarely, very rarely, does one man leave such a positive imprint on those around him on the township he has served. … I am here to recognize not only the joy and happiness that Kenny spread, but also the qualities that made him a compassionate and caring officer, a loyal and steadfast leader, a wise and trusted confidant and counselor, and an irreplaceable, once-in-a-lifetime friend.

“Ken McCormick did more than serve the people of North Brunswick, he served the cause of justice. Ken’s most serious look, his most severe gaze, was still one filled with compassion and caring. Clearly smarter than most of us, Ken was faster to perceive needs and identify patterns. Ken’s foresight long ago set our township on a course to ensure our police have been impeccably trained and accredited.

“But much more than that, his character and his humanity have molded a department, that, like Ken, respects every person and every life; that, like Ken, is fast to smile and slow to anger, but always attuned to everything that is happening; that, like Ken, sees the best in all people and does everything possible to achieve the best outcome for everyone,” Womack said.

The mayor said he is a better person for having McCormick as a friend.

“The North Brunswick police are a better department and will be for years into the future, for having Ken McCormick as a leader,” he said. “The Township of North Brunswick and every man, woman and child who lives here are, and forever will be, better as a result of the dedication, commitment, leadership, caring and love of our friend, Police Director Kenneth McCormick. Our loss is immense.”

Shanti Narra, who was a councilwoman for seven years before being appointed to the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, said her mother had a crush on McCormick and Battaglia.

She recalled an event where her mom was her date and kept gushing about the “two big, very burly, handsome men” at their table.

Narra is the liaison to the county’s Public Safety and Health Committee and said as a lifelong public defender in New York, her abilities as a public defender to run public safety were questioned.

However, she said McCormick made a few calls and assured colleagues she has a strong respect for law enforcement.

Narra also said that when she met McCormick’s wife Laura last year, he had “that gleam, that twinkle, that sparkle in his eye” upon their introduction.

“This is a huge loss for the North Brunswick community. I don’t know if we are truly going to recognize the effects of his loss for a long time …” Narra said.

Dr. Brian Zychowski, superintendent of the North Brunswick School District, said he and McCormick would talk about history; and all great historical leaders who make a difference left the place they led better than they found it.
“It is a jackpot and a blessing to have the support of a police director like Ken McCormick,” he said on behalf of the 6,500 students and 1,100 district employees in the township.

He said McCormick was always available, answering hundreds of late night calls.

“Ken was there as a partner, never avoiding the issues,” Zychowski said.
He said McCormick never took credit for any of the police department’s accomplishments, especially that of securing three federal Secure Our School grants. He said McCormick was concerned with school safety long before the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Virginia Tech.
“He was more than a friend, he was truly a leader,” Zychowski said, adding that McCormick made North Brunswick a great place to live, work and learn. “We are all in debt in the education community to Ken.”

Religious leaders spoke about how McCormick crossed all boundaries.

Bishop Lucky of Without Walls Church said he has known McCormick for 10 years, admiring his charisma and compassion.

“Living in these times we are separated by so much of the things going on in the world, so many various communities we have established,” he said. “When you see so many wonderful traits of my friend Ken … a man who would extend his hand to help anyone.”

Lucky said God puts great people together because they have a role to play.

“He was a bridge,” Lucky said of McCormick. “He was one who extended his heart, his hand. He was one who understood how to cross boundaries and bring us together.”

Rabbi Mendy Carlebach of the Chabad of North and South Brunswick said, “Ken was a man of action. Ken liked to get things done.”

To keep McCormick’s memory alive, Carlebach urged people to “give that Ken smile to people who are down” and to thank law enforcement officers for doing their jobs, as well as reaching out and reconciling with one’s distant family members.

“By doing a good deed each and every day, we will keep the legacy of Ken McCormick alive forever and ever,” he said.

Sami Catovic, executive director of the New Brunswick Islamic Center, which is in North Brunswick, said McCormick visited on multiple occasions and made his mosque feel welcome.

He said funerals are a time to bid farewell, but also are an opportunity to remind people of the ultimate destination. He said people ask themselves what impact they will leave on this world.

“His absence is noticed because his presence was felt,” Catovic said.

The Rev. Mark McGrath of Point Community Church said character, honesty and integrity are what matter most in a person.

He said people live in a “confusing” time, where they “no longer know what traits to honor. Is public service honorable, or does it make you a loser? Is caring for others honorable, or does it make you a sucker? We struggle with what to honor.”

Yet he said McCormick was always a man worthy of honor, not just for the way he carried himself as police director, but because of the way he lived his life.

“He loved his family, his wife, his friends, his community, the opportunity to put other people ahead of himself,” McGrath said. “Every time you were with him you wanted to be better, you wanted to rise up.”

The Rev. John Polyak of Our Lady of Peace Church in North Brunswick offered the opening prayer.

The Middlesex County Police and Fire Pipes and Drums performed the opening and closing ceremonies. The North Brunswick Township Police Honor Guard honored McCormick.

Jeff Maroccia, Mike McGinn and Don Conry of the Central Jersey Emerald Society read an Irish blessing: May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

Following the End of Watch Call, the hearse made its way through a sea of police officers standing in salute.

McCormick was buried at Van Liew Cemetery in North Brunswick.

Editor’s note: Bishop Calvin Enlow of New Destiny Family Worship Center of North Brunswick spoke during the ceremony. His comments were not available as of press time.

Contact Jennifer Amato at [email protected].

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Obituary information courtesy of Selover Funeral Home, North Brunswick

Kenneth P. McCormick was born on Dec. 26, 1960, and died Sept. 2, 2020, at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. He was 59.
Born in New Brunswick to the late Clarence P. “Mickey” and Helen L. (Petzinger) McCormick, he was raised and lived in North Brunswick, and served the North Brunswick community his entire career.
He joined the North Brunswick Township Police Department in 1982, attaining the rank of sergeant in 1994 and lieutenant in 1999. McCormick became police director as a sworn officer in 2003. He retired as a sworn law enforcement officer at the end of 2007 after 25 years of service and later resumed the role of police director as a civilian, where he remained until his death.
McCormick was a founding member of the Central Jersey Police Emerald Society and was a member of the Middlesex County Chiefs of Police and the North Brunswick PBA Local 160.
Surviving are his wife – Laura (Cano) McCormick; two daughters – Erika and Marina McCormick of Allentown; two sisters – Kathleen Feigley and her longtime companion Ed Kross of Bridgewater, and Paula McCormick of Apache Junction, Arizona; and a brother Michael McCormick and his wife Sharon of North Brunswick.
He is also survived by nephews and niece Bryan, Kyle, Michael, Shawn and Amanda, and many more loving relatives and friends.
Perhaps he said it best when he wrote: “Our destiny is not one we can steer the ship through with certainty. One thing is certain is that we can’t take anything with us when we depart this life. Enjoy your life, forgive your enemies and worship your family. In the end how will you be remembered and by who? Soon we will all be a memory … let’s hope it’s a good one.”
Visitation was held at Our Lady of Peace Church, North Brunswick. Funeral services were on the Great Lawn of North Brunswick Community Park. Burial followed in Van Liew Cemetery in North Brunswick. Arrangements are by Selover Funeral Home, North Brunswick.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network or the ALS Association.