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New bench on Bolin Creek Trail honors memory of Town employee Jim Huegerich

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A memorial bench honoring Jim Huegerich is pictured on Bolin Creek Trail on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. Huegerich dedicated 37 years to develop the Chapel Hill Police Department Crisis Unit and played a pivitol role in establishing an ombuds office for the Town, according to The Town of Chapel Hill website.

The Town of Chapel Hill recently installed a memorial bench dedicated to the late Jim Huegerich along the Bolin Creek Trail. Huegerich, a former director of the Chapel Hill Police Department Crisis Unit, died in February 2022 after a battle with leukemia.

Huegerich worked with the crisis unit for 37 years. After he left CHPD, he played a key part in establishing the Ombuds Office for the Town, acting as its director until he died.

The CHPD's Crisis Unit is a 24-hour response team that provides on-site emergency response with officers to individuals in different crisis situations.

The Ombuds Office helps people navigate the challenges of living and working in Chapel Hill by providing them with advice, information and training.

Chris Blue, Chapel Hill's town manager and the former chief of the Chapel Hill Police Department, said he enjoyed working closely with Huegerich from his time as a rookie officer well into his tenure as chief.

“I think he also [had] that kind of lightness that he tried to bring to very tough situations, which, when you're the Town Ombuds, you often hear from people who are frustrated or struggling in some way,” he said. "And, as a police crisis counselor, you are undoubtedly seeing people at their worst and people who've experienced trauma."

Steve Wright, the public art coordinator for the Town, said the Huegerich family raised funds with the assistance of Friends of Parks, Recreation & Greenways, the local community and their own family to create an artistic memorial bench.

“The idea for the project actually started with the family,” Wright said. 

Jim Gallucci, the artist who designed the bench, said the funding was provided in August 2023 and the bench was finished in the summer.

The bench features Huegerich’s favorite flower — a red poppy — on both sides of the bench. It also has a “whisper function,” where people can whisper into one poppy and listen through the other.

“It’s comfortable to sit on, and even more than that, it’s about what Jim was about — people connected,” Gallucci said.

According to Blue, Huegerich was posthumously awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange, Person) at CHPD’s celebration of the crisis unit’s 50th anniversary event earlier this month. 

“The purpose of the event was to celebrate its history and all of the good work and innovation that has come through it, but I will tell you that Jim Huegerich was really the star of that celebration,” Blue said. 

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine was created in 1963 to honor individuals with a proven record of service to the state of North Carolina or some other special achievement.

Jim's wife, Tricia Huegerich, was quoted in the Town's press release for the memorial bench.

“Jim walked by this spot thousands of times over the years and even when he was sick,” she said in the press release. "He would be tickled."

Blue said one of the most important things about Huegerich was his dedication to his family and friends. He also said that anyone who knew Huegerich would talk about his sense of humor.

“He was a lover of puns — the worse, the better,” he said. “No doubt that he had some of the worst you've ever heard. That was part of the fun because he was in on the joke, too. He knew they were terrible and he enjoyed telling a bad one more than good."

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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