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Worth cop retires — sort of — with 25 years of memories

Tony Balsamo has retired after 25 years with Worth Police Department.  |  Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media

Tony Balsamo has retired after 25 years with the Worth Police Department. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media

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After 25 years in law enforcement in Worth, Tony Balsamo has decided to pull the pin.

In law enforcement language, that means retirement.

His days with the Worth police ended in June. But, apparently, one can take a guy out of the police department, but one can’t take the police out of the guy. Balsamo, 50, now is an officer with the Moraine Valley Community College Police Department. He started there in August.

A retirement party saluting his years in Worth will be held for Balsamo from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday at The Chieftain Irish Pub, 6906 W. 111th St. The $40-per-person fee includes food, an open bar and a gift.

Balsamo, who lives in Mokena with his wife, Pam, and their three children, said it’s too soon for him to miss working in Worth, but he recently shared some stories from his quarter century with the department over a cup of coffee with a reporter at a doughnut shop in Orland Park.

Spare those cop and doughnut jokes, please. Balsamo is a svelte 172 pounds, about 70 less than he weighed at age 19 when he was a firefighter with Roberts Park.

Actually, a frigid night working a fire at 87th Street and 80th Avenue in the early 1980s convinced him it was time to change careers. The wind-chill index was about 80 below zero. He was on the ladder, covered with ice. While trying to defrost his frozen face in the exhaust of a truck, half his mustache broke off.

“I looked up and saw a Justice police officer in his car, pointing at me and laughing. I thought, ‘You (expletive), that’s the job I want,’ ” Balsamo said, laughing at the recollection.

He volunteered for two years with the Worth police and joined full time 25 years ago. He worked his way through the ranks as a patrol officer, juvenile officer, detective, and firearms instructor before retiring as a sergeant. One of the highlights of the job was the 10 years he spent working, on loan, with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

“I’ve been on the Mexican border, to El Paso, Nogales and all over the city of Chicago. You basically work for the government, but the village gets a percentage of the assets that we recover. I was fortunate to be assigned to enforcement groups,” he said.

“I actually didn’t want to go. No one likes change. I enjoyed where I was at, but once I got into it, I came back kicking and scratching,” Balsamo said.

He’s not at liberty to discuss many details of those federal cases, but said drug smugglers are creative.

“If you can think of it, they’ve thought of it,” he said when asked about hiding places he’s seen.

On the local level, he enjoyed working in Worth.

“I had excellent bosses who backed you 100 percent. And when I was a supervisor, I had excellent people working with me,” he said.

His favorite “speeder” story is about the nurse he pulled over doing 51 mph in a 20-mph school zone on 111th Street. She told him she was heading to a hospital for an emergency. There was one problem: She was heading in the opposite direction.

Another time he answered a loud music complaint in the wee hours at an apartment. When the door finally opened, he saw a young lady wearing a teddy and two young men wearing boxer shorts. One guy was carrying a door.

“They apologized and turned the music down. I said, ‘I don’t know what you three are up to, but you’re all adults.’ I asked if everyone was good. They said they were. I left,” he said, shaking his head.

A career in public service has rubbed off on two of his children.

Daughter Lindsey, a student at Moraine Valley, is a part-time police officer there. Son TJ, a senior at Lincoln-Way East High School, wants to join the Coast Guard. No word on the plans of eighth-grader Melissa.

Balsamo thanked Pam for being so understanding of his odd hours over the years.

Balsamo grew up on Chicago’s Southwest Side, at 76th Street and Damen Avenue, before the family moved to Hickory Hills in 1973. He graduated from Stagg High School.

He still loves being a Worth police officer, but said, “Towards the end, I spent most of my time in the station and very little time on the street. It’s time to go.”

An avid fisherman and hunter, Balsamo hopes to work at least 10 more years with the college’s police department. He’s glad the college has campuses in Palos Hills, Tinley Park and Blue Island because he gets to cover all three, offering variety to his duties.

With about 20,000 people on the Palos Hills campus on any given weekday, he figures boredom won’t be an issue. And he’s still working odd hours.

“There was no way I was going to entirely stop working at 50. When I do ‘retire retire,’ I’ll get a job at Bass Pro Shops. If you look in the back of my van now, it’s filled with hunting gear,” he said with a smile.

For more information on the retirement party, contact Worth Deputy Police Chief Mark Micetich at (708) 670-0023 or Nicole Daly at (708) 923-7519.



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