NILES - For about 80 minutes, two former policemen who spent decades working city beats and security details side-by-side, sat together at Shepherd of the Valley eating breakfast and reminiscing.
Joseph M. "Whizzy" Ciminero had been battling a serious illness for about a year, but for those brief moments on Sept. 17, he took one last trip down memory lane with his old friend Bernie Profato.
"To be able to share that with him and for him not being confined to a bed was special," an emotional Profato said. "It was like we were back in the good old days."
Niles police Captain Ken Criswell holds a copy of the collage featuring Ciminero. Criswell and others shared fond memories of Ciminero, who worked for the police department.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Ashley Newman
Five days later, the 77-year-old Ciminero passed away at Trumbull Memorial Hospital.
"The greatest gift the good Lord could give me was that last meeting with him," Profato said.
For 38 years, Ciminero was a fixture at the Niles Police Department, working his last few decades as a records clerk.
"We worked in the same office, right next to each other," Profato said. "Nobody will ever be able to fathom the good things he did or the kind of guy he was. If he had a slice of bread, he'd make sure you got some before he did."
Current Niles police Chief Rob Hinton agreed with Profato's assessment of Ciminero, as the two worked together for 14 years before Ciminero's retirement.
"He had a heart of gold and was the kind of guy you'd never hear anyone say a bad word about," Hinton said. "He was a very positive guy and a phenomenal human being."
Before leaving the department, Ciminero's son, Randy, joined the Niles Fire Department.
"I would say his years of service in Niles definitely influenced me to join," Randy Ciminero said. "He's the one who encouraged me to apply in the first place."
Now a captain with the fire department, Randy Ciminero said the 18 years he worked in the same building as his father were priceless.
"He would already be here at 5 o'clock in the morning checking the incident reports and talking with the dispatchers just to find out what happened overnight," Randy Ciminero said. "It was really nice to see the way he interacted with people at work. I know I'm biased, but it seemed like everyone had a lot of respect for him.
"Even people who were in trouble, you could tell they respected him," he continued.
According to Ciminero, the time between his father joining the force in 1960 to his retirement in 1998 gave him a unique perspective on the changes within the department and the city.
"He worked during a real transitional period," Ciminero, 56, said of his father. "He was here back when they went from the old station to the new one."
That's not all that changed, Ciminero said. The department went from the old style of police work to a more modern technological method.
"When he started, guys still spent their time walking a beat," Ciminero said. "The officers got to know and meet with the businesses and people. It was more of a physical getting out there and being in the community. Now, it's less personal.
"The town was different back then too. He liked that part of it a lot," he continued.
When it came time for his retirement in 1998, Ciminero said the hardest part for his father was not seeing those friendly faces as often.
"He was very people oriented and he loved being a policeman," Ciminero said. "It wasn't just about the people out in the community, but also all of the people at the department. He missed seeing all of his friends. Some guys stayed in close touch with him over the years, though."
One of those who remained connected with Ciminero was Niles police Captain Ken Criswell, who was a neighbor of Joe Ciminero in addition to working alongside him.
"He was just a great guy," Criswell said. "The nicest person you'd ever want to meet."
In commemoration of Ciminero, the Niles Police Department gave a framed collage to family members and former co-workers.
"Originally, we just brought one to the small family funeral service and gave it to his wife," Hinton said. "But, people liked them so much, we ended up making eight of them for various other family members and friends."
According to Profato, it was Ciminero's idea to keep services small between family and a handful of friends.
"He didn't want to inconvenience anyone by making them stand in line," Profato said. "Right to the end, he didn't want to inconvenience other people. That's just the way he was."
Ciminero was a 1955 graduate of Niles McKinley High School and was a member of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Niles.
He is survived by his wife, Shirley Hubauer Ciminero; two sons, Randy and Brian, both of Niles; and two grandchildren.