NORTH SALEM,N.Y.--For the first time since he started working at 16, Joseph Olenik, now 59, is going to have weekends off.
A man of many hats, which have included those of fire marshal, police chief, facilities director for Weston public schools in Connecticut for the last five years, and dad to three, Olenik is ready to take just one out of the rotation in order to spend more time with his wife, Stephanie, and children, Emily, 5, Colin, 6, and Bradley, 13.
Literally standing at the end of the road (he manned the roadblock at the corner of 116 and Titicus River Road during North Salem’s annual 9/11 ceremony at the North Salem Fire House), he looked backed on the last 32 years, during which he has worked part time for the North Salem Police Department.
“When I first started here back in 1986, we were actually working out of a one-drawer filing cabinet in the old highway department,” he said. “We’ve come quite a ways,” he said of the part-time staff that was at one time responsible for purchasing its own uniforms, holsters and guns and shared one police car.
He said he’s enjoyed seeing the department, and the town, grow.
Olenik’s time with the North Salem Department was a sliver of what has been a varied career. With more than 30 years’ experience in facilities management, he was the campus police chief for the State University of New York (SUNY) in Purchase, spent 38 years as a volunteer with the Millwood Fire District in New Castle, N.Y., including the position of district chief, and was also New Castle’s fire marshal.
Olenik holds an applied associate’s degree in engineering science from Westchester Community College, and bachelor’s degrees in facilities and property management from Iona College and in mechanical engineering from Manhattan College.
His law enforcement career started in Ossining. He went from there to the Westchester County Department of Public Safety for six years before beginning his work in North Salem. After 20 years, he also retired from the New York State Police, in 2012.
In that time, he served for eight years as chief of the NYS University Police at SUNY Purchase, and doubled as its chief operating officer, managing a staff of 150 employees.
Prior to that, he was the operations manager at Iona College in New Rochelle, where he was responsible for the operations and management of three campuses and oversaw a $5.3 million operating budget and directed a staff of eight managers, 52 tradespeople and 40 contractors.
“It was going to be temporary,” he said. “The president asked me to step in temporarily as chief operating officer and the ‘temporary’ lasted for about 10 years.”
Olenik also holds a master instructor certificate with the NYS Division of Criminal Justice and has been an instructor at the Zone 3 Police Academy, teaching general studies for 20 years. In addition, he has been the facilities manager at Weston Public Schools for five years. He recently renewed a three-year contract with the district and plans to work there until his retirement at 65–maybe.
Having worked at least three jobs simultaneously for most of his adult life, Olenik admits he doesn’t quite know how to not work. He runs on about four hours of sleep a night, which he said is plenty.
Olenik was born in the Bronx, N.Y., and moved to Westchester when he was 5. He grew up in the hamlet of Millwood in New Castle and came up through the Chappaqua Central School District, where he graduated from high school.
His father, Anthony Olenik, a World War II veteran, is 103 years old and still lives in the home where Olenik and his three siblings grew up. His mother, Maria, lived to be 92.
He says he got his “work until you can’t work anymore” ethic from his dad, who worked as the diesel train mechanic for the city of New York and was forced into mandatory retirement at age 65.
Olenik said he’s asked his dad his secret to longevity. His response? Happiness. It’s a quality Olenik has as well. His pleasant disposition is contagious. Even as he says he’s sad to be leaving the department, Olenik has a smile on his face.
“I try to see the good in everything and everyone,” he said.
A career in law enforcement might test his resolve from time to time, but Olenik believes in the rehabilitation aspect of the judicial system.
Jeffrey Daday, a member of the Croton Falls Fire District, of which Olenik is an honorary member, has known Olenik his entire life, he said. To him, Olenik is “Uncle Joe.” Daday’s father was a long-time employee of the town with the highway department, and was a member of the police force, as well.
“He would give you the shirt off his back,” Daday said. “That’s just the kind of guy he is.”
Supervisor Warren Lucas said Olenik’s absence will be felt in the town.
And, Olenick said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if I popped back in for a few years down the road.”
For now, he said he’s looking forward to spending time with his family at their vacation home in the Catskills and continuing his work in Weston. He said he intends to visit often.
“I really enjoyed my time in North Salem,” he said.” It’s a great place.”