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From hockey star to deputy police chief: remembering George Usitalo

'He always said there were two things he wanted to do in life; either be a hockey player or be a policeman, and he got to do both'

George Usitalo came to Guelph to pursue a hockey career and ended up dedicating 30 years to serving the community as deputy police chief with the Guelph Police Service.

“He always said there were two things he wanted to do in life; either be a hockey player or be a policeman, and he got to do both,'' said Elsie Usitalo about her husband of over 60 years.

On Saturday, Feb. 12, George passed away in his home at the age of 83 with Elsie by his side.

"He was my best friend," said Elsie, who met George in high school. "He never missed a day to tell me he loved me."

Born and raised in Sudbury, George gained a love for hockey at a young age. At 18 it brought him to Guelph where he played two seasons with the Guelph Biltmores, lining up alongside future NHL stars Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle.

As he got older, the sport would take him places in the United States, playing for teams in Kentucky and Greensboro, North Carolina. 

George’s son, Craig Usitalo, said reporters called George ‘the next big thing’ in hockey.

“Even in Guelph, he would score 30 goals, 30 assists, but he would have a hundred penalty minutes too,” said Craig. “He was a tough bugger and he didn’t like getting pushed around.”

While George was on the verge of becoming a pro player, he opted to join the police academy instead to provide for his growing family. Craig mentions George was quite happy with his decision to pursue policing.

“He still always played hockey, he played until he was 78,” said Craig about George’s love for the game. “He said he never regretted it, because the police force gave him a beautiful life.”

In 1964 the GPS consisted of 61 officers for a population of 42,500, and George was one of 10 new hires that year. He climbed the ranks, making deputy chief  in 1988. George held that role until his retirement in 1994. 

As an officer, George was known for having the ability to put people at ease, a skill which he used often as he was assigned to the Criminal Investigations Unit for a number of years. 

“He was always very proud of his profession,” said Kim Usitalo-Bowden, one of George’s daughters. “He could treat people with fairness and kindness.”

George was also known for having compassion for the less fortunate, and would often help those who were in need. Outside of policing, George was an active member of Holy Rosary Church, where he was a parishioner for 55 years, and acted as a resource, a friend and supporting the church’s food pantry for 10 years.

"When Father Boyd announced my dad's passing, a couple people burst into tears because he wasn't just a member of the church, he brought faith outside of church," said Kim.

“He was a good guy who has done a lot for the community, he had a lot of common sense and tried to use it to help people,'' said Craig.

With four children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, George’s three passions in life were family, faith and winning.

After retiring from the police force, Elsie said George bought a minivan to drive all seven grandkids around, or play sports with them one-on-one.

Jasie Usitalo, one of the seven grandchildren, said when all of the grandkids got into hockey, her grandfather tried to attend as many games as he could.

“He had to stop playing hockey so he could come watch all of our games,” said Jasie. “Between all of us, he was at the hockey rink five nights a week.”

“I’ve figured he watched about 4,000 hockey games for his grandkids,'' added Craig.

Along with hockey, the family would play cribbage together and participate in family softball games throughout the summer. 

“It was a game where everybody played and dad usually pitched,” said Elsie.

Elsie mentions George taught all the grandchildren how to play tennis, which resulted in the creation of an annual family tournament called the ‘George Usitalo Memorial Tennis Tournament.’

“It all used to be for fun, but eight or nine years ago, we started doing tournaments,” said Jasie, “We were always all so competitive about who was going to win it, but we made a trophy three or four years ago to keep track of who is winning.”

"He built that for us, and it's in everyone of us to keep our families close and families come first," said daughter Gayle Porcellato. "Those were the best times when the whole family was together, he got so excited."

After George’s passing, many family members commented how surprised and touched they were by the personal stories shared by other community members about George.

"The emails aren't just coming from our friends, but from friends of our children who have had relationships with my dad," said Gayle.

"He never begrudged to do anything," said Linda Hryciw, George's sister-in-law. "I had such high respect for him."

"They all knew him and they all loved him," said Craig about the response. "He didn't do something super fantastic, but he was always there and always supportive."