Ross Twp. police chief Darryl Haussler will retire after his shift today to close a five-year stint at the head of the department marked by improvement, modernization and his inspirational battle against a kidney-failing disease.
Haussler said the move is “bittersweet” as he leaves a department he joined in 2014.
“There are just so many people out there who supported me when I was sick and in a way I feel like I’m letting them down,” he said. “But I also know that I can’t control any of that really because of my illness, and they deserve to have a chief that’s going to be there full-time for them, as do the officers. My body is just not going to allow that to happen.”
RELATED: An area police chief needed a new kidney. He never knew his savior was so close by
Haussler suffers from a rare, and very painful, disease known as scleroderma, which caused his kidneys to fail. Maria Wessel, a friend from his church, donated one of her kidneys to Haussler last fall. He has been back at work part-time and says even those hours are draining.
Township Administrator Bob Bass said he understands Haussler’s decision.
“I wasn’t surprised by the decision because I know what he has battled physically through with his illness. I was disappointed not in him but for him,” Bass said. “He did spectacular things when he was here and I know he still had other things he wanted to accomplish, but his disease wouldn’t allow him to do that.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, scleroderma is a group of rare diseases that involve the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues — the fibers that provide the framework and support for the body.
Haussler’s kidneys quit working in December 2016 when he came down with pneumonia after the disease attacked his lungs and then affected his heart. He had a procedure to reduce fluid around his heart, but his blood pressure “went through the roof” causing renal crisis.
The disease in Haussler’s case also made eating solid foods nearly impossible. He lost 70 pounds, and some of his doctors’ predictions were dire and his life expectancy iffy. He fought back.
He and his wife were also in a horrific car crash on Interstate 75 one year ago. A driver rammed their vehicle going 55 mph, pushing them under the back of a semi.
He earned praise from area officials as his retirement neared.
“Darryl has made a major, major impact on Ross Twp.,” said Trustee Tom Willsey. “His leadership, just his professionalism has completely changed not only our police department around but the way the public looks at our police department. It’s been a tremendous impact.”
Bass said probably the biggest impact Haussler had was to bring extensive training to the department. Police work has changed drastically and Bass said the chief took the department from a “small town” department to one that operates at a high level of professionalism.
MORE: Former trustee on police chief: ‘We’re losing one heck of a man’
Haussler took the helm of the part-time department in 2014 after voters approved a levy the previous fall. He was the only full-time officer then, overseeing eight part-time officers and two auxiliary officers. Voters approved another levy last fall and now the force is up to seven full-time and six part-time officers plus a part-time clerk.
“The standards for instance for use of force have become so complex that you have to have not only an understanding of what those are, but also you have to be trained in how you handle those,” Bass said. “So the training aspect of what he brought to this and how he developed the department has reduced the township’s liability in having a police department immensely.”
Trustee Ellen Yordy agreed Haussler has been a great asset to the township.
“He is an amazing man and he is handling his life situation to the best of his ability for the township and his family. I have the utmost respect for him as our police chief,” she said.
The chief said he is going to miss all the people he has worked with, especially his officers. He will also miss moments where he was out in the field, supporting his staff.
“When we had that incident where the gentleman was crushed under a vehicle, the officers I was with came back to me later on said how much they appreciated me being with them and helping them make the death notification,” he said. “Those are the kind of things that really make the job worthwhile.”
Haussler said he doesn’t know what the future holds for him, but he’ll likely find something part-time with little stress. His wife, Debbie, has a long list of projects around the house he couldn’t do when he was so sick, he said.
Former Trustee Raymond Wurzelbacher said the chief will be missed.
“We’re losing one heck of a man,” Wurzelbacher said. “I really appreciate what he’s done; he turned the police department completely around. I hate to see him go. But with his condition, I think he knows what’s best for him and what’s best for the township.”
Willsey said trustees are very close to selecting the chief’s replacement.
“Whoever comes in behind him has a very, very difficult act to follow,” Willsey said. “He is just such a super guy and he’s always held the same demeanor, his professionalism is tremendous and it’s going to be tough to replace him. So that’s what makes the decision-making with his replacement so difficult.”