Conversation with Sheriff Canarecci, Part 1

He spent nearly eight years as St. Joseph County Sheriff, surprising many when he announced his retirement six months ahead of schedule.

While politics and controversy played a role in Frank Canarecci's decision to step down as the county's top crime dog, he says after 37 years in law enforcement he just wants to enjoy life and his family.

Frank and his wife Chris are looking forward to spending more time at home and with their 11 children and 12 grandchildren who are spread across the country.

No matter where travel takes them, Michiana will always be home.

Frank was born and raised in Mishawaka. He had a pretty normal childhood until he turned 10.

“My mother developed cancer and at the age of 39. She passed away so my dad was left with four kids to raise,” says Frank.

His dad, a proud World War II vet and business owner, did his best, but Frank admits to causing some mischief.

“Once in a while, there would be a knock on the door from the Mishawaka Police Department and my dad always said that he knew I was going to be involved in the law, he just wasn't sure what side of the bars I was going to be on,” he says.

Once Frank became a freshman at Mishawaka High School he decided what side of the law he wanted to be on.

“I started studying, and you know, clamped down and got more and more in athletics and academics and, you know, it made it a lot easier for him and for me,” says Frank.

Frank played football and wrestled for Mishawaka, and he also got good grades. He went on to wrestle and play football for Indiana University in Bloomington, and not just any IU football team—the 1968 team beat Purdue to play USC and O.J. Simpson. He even has the ring to prove it, although he admits appreciating that trip took maturing.

“I didn't realize it as a 19 year-old kid for IU going to the Rose Bowl. It hasn't happened since and it may be a while before it happens again,” says Frank. “Just to be a member of a team taught me a lot about the importance of teamwork.”

After college, Frank spent four years in active duty in the Air Force as both a Morse code intercept operator and aerobics instructor, but not the kind you might think.

“I would test the colonels and generals annually for their aerobic tests so I got to make a few friends that way,” he says.

It was a friend from Mishawaka, from the old neighborhood, who got him his first job.

Frank was educated to be a teacher, but he had family and friends who were cops.

Many from Michiana will remember Sheriff Dean Bolerjack, who served as sheriff here in the 1970's.

“I made a long distance call to Dean and he was in the office and he basically said, ‘Yeah Frankie, come on back,’” says Frank.

Frank says he never looked back.

“I started in the jail and then I was road patrol officer for six years. I was a policeman, I worked the streets, I was in the trenches, I was shot at in October of 1975,” he says.

His big break came when Joe Nagy became sheriff and he was asked to interview to become assistant chief.

He was nervous over the interview, hoping to concentrate on talking about his experience and education.

“He asked me one question, he said, ‘Do you golf?’ and I said, ‘No’ and he said, ‘Good, we need someone to watch our office while we go golfing,’”

Canarecci must have been pretty good holding down the fort because he did it for 13 years under three sheriffs. But once he became sheriff, he learned something new.

“I learned what it takes to be a sheriff,” he says. “I haven't really learned yet what it takes.”

Watch NewsCenter 16 on Wednesday, just before 6:00, when Maureen continues her conversation with former Sheriff Canarecci. He’ll talk more about the politics involved in being sheriff and points the finger for a lot of the controversy he had to face at how county government operates.

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