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A sign reading "RAT" was posted at the driveway to St. Joan of Arc Church in Streetsboro.
Inside the church's fellowship hall, about 75 people who knew exactly what that sign meant gathered for a Celebration of Life and 70th birthday party for RAT, Richard Allen Taiclet, Streetsboro's beloved retired police chief and an indefatigable volunteer for various community organizations, including the Streetsboro Area Chamber of Commerce and Streetsboro Family Days.
"There were people from the city he's known throughout the years," said his wife, Robyn. Other attendees included friends from the Brookville neighborhood where he grew up.
Taiclet is fighting Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. He's lost the ability to walk, and communication is difficult, which Robyn said is probably his greatest frustration.
At the event, Quilts of Valor presented the former chief and Vietnam veteran with a quilt, which he said was "quite an honor."
"It felt pretty good," he said.
The quilt was presented by Jean Peterson of the Akron area chapter of Quilts of Valor, which offers to give one quilt to any veteran who wants one.
"We sometimes give out one to an individual, but sometimes we have groups, sometimes large groups, sometimes little groups," she said.
What began as a presentation for Taiclet morphed into a family affair. Each of his sons, Rodney, Brad and Rich Jr., are veterans or current service members.
"Rod and Brad are Reservists," said Mindy Taiclet, Rich Jr.'s wife. "Rich was in the Navy."
Despite making the initial to call the Quilts of Valor, Jean Baird, the former chief's sister, did experience a surprise at the event.
"I didn't realize the boys were getting quilts, too," she said. "That was pretty exciting for me."
Mindy said what started as a family birthday party and Quilt of Valor presentation grew quickly as soon as the gregarious former chief started inviting people from around the community.
"At first, it was just to be strictly family," she said a couple weeks before the event. "Now, he has invited everyone on the planet."
Some the guests included Streetsboro Police Chief Darin Powers and a shift of officers, former Streetsboro Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Bieterman and many others.
The elder Taiclet is known around town as a remorseless practical jokester, which Powers said carried over to the police department when Taiclet was chief from 2004 to 2010. He had served at the department since 1974.
"He would hide behind corners and jump out at somebody," said Powers. "He did all kinds of crazy stuff. His personality didn't change at the station."
Jean and her husband, Glenn Baird, said the family has a running joke that even the military picked up on Taiclet's penchant for practical joking.
"His discharge papers from the Army said Richard Alien," said Glenn.
Streetsboro Family Days Founder Chuck Kocisko, a frequent target of Taiclet's antics, said the event was "a nice party."
He said Taiclet was integral to Streetsboro Family Days operations for many years.
"He was our security guy," said Kocisko. "He used to be there all night with his dog, Precious. We couldn't have done it without him."
Valerie Fiala, executive director of the Streetsboro Area Chamber of Commerce, said she enjoys Taiclet's company and selfless help to the organization.
"I cannot say how happy I am that I met Rich," she said. "This man gives everything to everyone and expects nothing in return."
Robyn said Taiclet was able to take an honor flight to Washington, D.C. in April this year.
"Our son, Brad, went with him as his guardian," she said.
Glenn said The Honor Flight Network is still trying to give a chance to World War II and Korean Conflict veterans a chance to travel to the nation's capital, but the organization made an exception because of Taiclet's health.
Taiclet said the receptions at the Cleveland and Baltimore airports were very moving.
"We were at the airport in Cleveland," he said. "They organized us in wheelchairs. We were in the line at the gate, and the whole terminal applauded."
In Baltimore, he said the reception from thousands moved him to tears.
Taiclety's ALS is progressing quickly, Robyn said.
He's getting in-home hospice care, has to undergo breathing treatments throughout much of the day and be fed through his stomach because he can no longer swallow much of anything other than milkshakes.
"His diaphragm is dead," Robyn said. "The hospice will be at home; the goal is to keep him as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. It's really hard to see him lose his independence. That really drives him crazy."
FB: Bob Gaetjens