It's been nearly a year since Kenai Police Officer John Watson was killed in the line of duty, but his memory still lives strong in the community where he lived and served. On Wednesday, that community took time to show its ongoing appreciation for Watson's work by announcing that more that $7,000 has been raised to create a memorial in his honor.
"Officer John Watson was our John Watson, and we're never going to forget him," Kenai Chamber of Commerce President Tim Navarre said during a ceremony at the chamber's weekly meeting.
Navarre presided over a ceremony that included speeches from a host of dignitaries, including Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, former Kenai Mayor John Williams, Sen. Tom Wagoner and Rep. Mike Chenault.
Navarre presented a check to Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp and Watson's widow, Kathy, representing the amount the chamber has raised for a planned memorial loop which will be added at the Leif Hanson Memorial Park in downtown Kenai.
Kopp said the chamber's work for a memorial is greatly appreciated by his department, which has been dealing with its first officer killed in the line of duty since Watson was shot on Christmas Day.
"On behalf of Kathy Watson and all of us at the police department, I want to thank the Kenai Chamber of Commerce," Kopp said.
Kopp said the donation comes at a perfect time, because it allows everyone involved in the tragedy to continue moving forward during this difficult time.
"You have helped make it possible for us to move into this season of hope with peace and serenity in our hearts," he said.
Kopp said he believes the memorial will not only help Watson's family and the department get over the grief caused by Watson's death, but also create a culture where future officers will feel proud to serve the community.
"It makes it possible to hire excellent men and women who are willing to give as police officers," he said.
Leman made a special presentation of his own Wednesday. He said Kathy Watson came to him following her husband's death with a concern over the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend program's policy of not paying dividends to people who died before the end of the year. Because Watson's death came less than a week before the new year, he was denied his final dividend.
Leman said he could not go around the law in Watson's case. However, he was able to take Watson's cause up with some people in Juneau and around the state and was able to personally raise funds for a final payment.
"We were able to raise some money from some very generous individuals," Leman said.
He then presented Kathy Watson with an oversized replica check in her husband's name, as well as an actual check in the amount of $919.84 the exact amount each Alaskan received for their 2004 dividends.
In addition to Leman's presentation, Porter gave Kathy Watson a decorative ornament in the shape of the word "Joy," saying the fallen Kenai officer embodied the true meaning of the word.
Following the presentations, Kopp thanked the community for its donations to the memorial fund, and said he believes the Watson memorial will enable the community to remember its fallen hero long into the future.
"This will go toward a beautiful thing, and a continuing, lasting memory of officer Watson."
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