TINLEY PARK, Illinois Feb 12 2018 — Police officers, Tinley Park residents, family members and friends are mourning the sudden loss of a state trooper who touched many lives through his generosity and thoughtfulness for others.
Rich Kozik, 58, of Mokena, died Tuesday following a medical emergency while on duty. He co-founded the Tinley Wish charity in 1996, worked toward establishing a memorial for state troopers killed in the line of duty and was a staunch advocate for motorcycle safety.
“Rich was not only a great leader, but a personal friend,” Illinois State Police Director Leo P. Schmitz said in a statement. “Rich was a dedicated 19-year veteran who was respected and revered by many both inside and outside our department. Rich will be remembered for his dedication to the Illinois State Police and living up to our motto (of) integrity, service and pride.”
Kozik, formerly of Oak Lawn, worked part-time for the Tinley Park department from 1995 to 1998, Police Chief Steve Neubauer said.
“I met Rich because even as a state trooper he would come down on Saturdays every year and help out with Tinley Wish,” Neubauer said. “He was one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
While working as a Tinley Park police officer, Kozik co-founded Tinley Wish with his friend and fellow officer, Dennis Mahoney.
“He was always helping people,” Mahoney said. “Over the years, we raised and donated in excess of $1 million and helped over 100 families.”
The organization remains active in its 23rd year, with volunteers leading the effort to help Tinley Park families in need during the holidays.
“He was truly one of a kind,” said Amy Lange, Tinley Wish board president. “Rich Kozik was one of the strongest and biggest hearts you’ll ever meet.”
Throughout the year, Tinley Wish volunteers raise money through events and contributions from individuals. In 2017, Tinley Park resident Mark Moylan rode a bicycle around Lake Michigan to raise funds for the organization.
A committee evaluates nominations and each year at Christmastime awards gifts to about a half dozen families in need. Recipients get help paying for medical expenses, gifts of toys for children and other assistance.
“Sometimes it’s hard to fight back tears” when volunteers distribute gifts, Lange said. “It’s an honor to be part of the board and follow in (Kozik’s) footsteps.”
The state police said Kozik was a member of the 1996 cadet class. He worked with District 15 in Downers Grove and was the district’s special operations lieutenant overseeing the motorcycle unit, truck enforcement unit and criminal patrol team.
“He did all the (motorcycle) testing for state troopers,” said Mahoney, who retired from the Tinley Park police after 23 years and now works as business manager for a trade union. “He ran the safety classes. He was very good friends with many Chicago police officers and helped them with (motorcycle safety) training.”
Kozik actively participated in the state’s annual “Start Seeing Motorcycles” safety campaign, now in its 35th year. In 2016, media accounts described how Kozik accompanied Gov. Bruce Rauner on a ride and at a news conference to educate other drivers about how to reduce collisions with motorcyclists.
“Motorcycles represent only 3 percent of the total vehicles registered in the state and 16 percent of total fatalities,” Kozik was quoted as saying.
Mahoney and others said Kozik was instrumental in leading an effort to create a permanent memorial to Illinois State Police officers killed in the line of duty. Kozik was a member of the Memorial Park Committee, which was established in 2007.
Later that year, the Illinois State Police Heritage Foundation ceremoniously took possession of Becker Park, a 1.5 acre parcel located next to the state police central headquarters in Springfield. The AIG Corporation donated the land, where the memorial will be built.
“Being an avid motorcycle guy, Rich said, ‘Hey, let’s do a motorcycle ride for the memorial park,'” said state police Sgt. Clare Pfotenhauer, a committee member. “That was the beginning of the push to establish the park.
“It looks like it will be built in the next year,” she added. “It’s sad that he won’t be able to see it. Everybody loved Rich. He had a vision and dedication. Words cannot describe how much he meant to others.”
A website for the memorial says it will honor more than 60 state troopers who have died in the line of duty. Pfotenhauer said Kozik’s name will be among them. His badge number was #4929.
“These brave individuals were more than police officers, they were part of a family,” the website says. “Each served with distinction and went to work each day knowing the possibility of making the ‘ultimate sacrifice,’ while dedicating their life to protecting us.
“This memorial, when constructed, will allow us all to pay fitting gratitude to not only our fallen officers, but their families who have given so much as well.”
Pfotenhauer, Mahoney and Lange said Kozik had battled cancer in recent years, and that his death from a heart attack was sudden and unexpected.
“He and I were best friends for 45 years,” Mahoney said.
State police said Kozik suffered a medical emergency and was taken to a hospital, where he died.
An obituary for Kozik said visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Robert J. Sheehy & Sons Funeral Home, 9000 W. 151st St., Orland Park. A Mass of the Resurrection will be held for family and friends at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 15050 S. Wolf Road, Orland Park. Interment will be at Resurrection Cemetery, 7201 Archer Road, Justice.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Illinois State Police Heritage Foundation at P.O. Box 8168, Springfield, IL 64791, or online at the foundation’s website. Donations also can be made to Tinley Wish at 7850 W. 183rd St., Tinley Park, IL 60477, or at the program’s website.
The obituary said Kozik was the son of the late Adolph and Helen Kozik, brother of Mary Ann Draudt, Gregory Kozik, and Camille Murray, and uncle of five.