After 36 years ‘Security Sally’ signs off

Ricciardi, retiring from Culver Academies, recalls changes,
generations of students
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There may have been a number of changes in campus security at Culver Academies over the past 36 years, but one constant has been the presence of Sally Ricciardi.

That is, until this past summer, when she finally hung up her uniform for retirement after 36 years and three months, and, as she notes, three additional months working for the school if you count her prior tenure at the laundry department.

It could be argued that "Security Sally," as she's known to generations of Academies students, past and present, inherited something of an Academies pedigree from her father, Charles Ricciardi, who immigrated to the U.S. from Italy nearly a century ago and moved from Chicago to Culver to join the 18 tailors at Culver Military Academy, which in those days (the early 1930s) made its own uniforms by hand.

"The only thing they didn't make was underwear and socks," Sally notes, adding her father married her mother, the former Mary Werner in 1942 and started his own dry cleaning business in downtown Culver (two years later, he built his own building to house the shop, in today's Lakeside Auto Supply on South Main Street). He returned to CMA as foreman of the tailor shop around 1956 and retired from the school in 1968.

Sally Ricciardi herself grew up working in the family dry cleaning business, working at the Academy laundry department in the summer to help earn money for college.

"Somebody asked me why I took the second shift," she recalls. "They used the presses and with the steam heat, back before air conditioning, it would be 100 or 105 degrees when you went in. But by midnight or 1 when you left, it was cooling down to like 70!"

Ricciardi attended Indiana University where she earned her bachelor's degree in forensic studies (which has since been renamed criminal studies). After a semi-truck smashed into the back of her car, she had to drop out of classes, finding herself one credit hour short at graduation time. She graduated in the summer, which meant all the jobs in her area of study had been taken by earlier graduates.

Their loss, as it turned out, was Culver's gain, as she noticed a job opening for a security position at Culver Academies.

"(Culver Girls Academy dean) Mai-Fan England decided they needed a female to go through the dorms, so I took that job, and it was strictly nights."

It might surprise some how far back the school's security department doesn't go. Ricciardi explains that Jim Cox and "Doc" Ives split an eight-hour shift each night starting around 1953, but in those days they primarily just patrolled the lakefront and piers to prevent theft and vandalism to the boats there.

"Before that, they had a night watchman," Ricciardi says. "Charlie Cook did that for a while. All they did was punch a clock in the buildings to make sure they weren’t on fire, and they secured some buildings."

In the late 1960s, broader security patrols were added, partly to incorporate the by then expanded Woodcraft Camp, besides addressing vandalism and other issues around campus.

By the time Ricciardi started, in 1977, the school had expanded its security force to three officers -- herself and two men -- all of whom worked 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. overnight shifts, all supplemented by part-time positions to cover weekends. It was assumed the assigned Barracks Inspections would handle any other security concerns in the evenings.

When she started, Ricciardi says she's been working a few years for the Marshall County Sheriff's department as a dispatcher and matron.

"I figured I'd work (at the Academy) a couple of years and go on to something different," she says. "One thing leads to another -- I liked the position and the people. The kids were really interesting and the faculty were a good group to work with. You'd see them when they did barracks inspection periodically."

Security duties evolved from "basically checking doors and walking through a few barracks, to when we got radios so people could call us. Back when I started they had these pagers. They'd call the powerhouse (to reach security). It was the old tube-type paging system, the likes of which probably hadn't been seen in 20 years! If two people came too close to each other, they'd start beeping like a mating call!"

In fact, the steel and concrete of many campus buildings prevented the paging signal from even reaching security, she adds.

"I was there a couple of years when I suggested they purchase some radios."

The security team worked for years under the umbrella of Facilities (which was called the Service Department in those days), and later under the business manager and then the commandant's office.

In the early 1980s, the department's line-of-sight radios became repeaters which allowed officers to answer phone calls.

A few years later, a second security shift was added which overlapped the later-night ones.

"That might have been one summer where they implemented that because you have one officer at Woodcraft and one at the main campus, and a female to go in between the two. It wasn't until John Buxton came that they added a day shift...that was about ten years ago (and I) rotated to a day shift then."

When Ricciardi started, the school's security vehicle was a Yugo whose age and heavy usage left a lot to be desired. As a result, officers drove their own vehicles on the job for some time. Things moved forward a bit in the early 1980s when the department acquired a used Maverick on whose roof a red light was placed (though the car still had no police markings).

The next car was an actual police car built to handle the heavy usage, which became the security vehicle for several years.

"As soon as we put the red light on it and people recognized it as a security vehicle, the vandalism at the edge of campus almost quit. Before that, they (vandals) used to knock out 10 or 12 windows at the stables every weekend. They would smash out the lampposts at the entrance to campus, and we couldn't keep windows in the boat shop."

From the beginning, Ricciardi explains, Academy security officers had the status of special deputies through the county sheriff's department. This practice continued until the mid to late 2000s, when concerns over liability and shifts in legal standards statewide saw it brought to an end.

"In reality it (campus security's practice) didn't change very much," Ricciardi points out. "We no longer assisted officers in town if they called. We still would, if they called us. But at that point the county said there could be some liability if we did something not appropriate...for most (vehicular) accidents, you called the county in anyway."

Campus security officers do have the power to detain a suspect, though not to make an arrest, she adds.

For her part, Ricciardi says she took over handling all the scheduling duties for the department after Jim Cox, in the early 1980s. She essentially acted in a supervisory role for most of the years since, though it was about ten years ago she was given the supervisor's title.
There are, of course, a host of "Security Sally stories" both from her memories and those of many a former student (so many, in fact, that for some time a Facebook page existed titled, "Security Sally Rocks," which provided a venue to relate some).

And at least for printing purposes, Sally Ricciardi isn't telling.

"At one of the reunions they invited me to -- a 25-year class reunion -- they wanted me to tell some stories, and I told them their secrets are safe with me," she smiles. "They know what they did and I know what they did. Not all got caught, but some did!"

It's likely the market for such stories abounds for two reasons: one is Ricciardi's own knack for remembering and spinning a yarn. She's either had a disproportionate share of absurd or all-but-unbelievable encounters, or excels at catching hold of their absurdity in a way many do not, and relating it after the fact.

Second is her approach to students. Whether or not she enforced the rules of the school any differently than others, it's clear she conveyed a mixture of humor and tough honesty to many, which earned their respect and admiration.

"I've gone for years under the premise that some of the little stuff, if you're five feet past the limits, or 10 feet past the water fountain where you're supposed to go back -- as long as you're polite and you go back and that's the first time, that's no big deal."

There were the seemingly miraculous disappearing cigarettes of students breaking the 'no smoking' campus rule when she showed up, of course, and the one cadet who unwisely hid his in his back pocket.

"He's starting to fidget a little and I finally said, 'Take it out of your pocket before you set your pants on fire.' I thought the hole in his pocket and his burnt skin was a sufficient deterrent!"

On a more serious note, there are memorable events like the massive fire which destroyed the Academies' gymnasium not long after Ricciardi started there, in November, 1977.

"That was a pretty busy night," she recalls. "It was really cold out there. We were charged, after they put the fire out, to set up a perimeter and patrol around. With all the water on it, it was like a skating rink on the hills to get to the other side and make sure nobody was messing with it before the fire inspector got there."

Incidents like that one, she adds, make her thankful for the tragedy averted.

"You don't want to say you're glad the building burned, but you're glad it was just the building. Like the fire in south barracks -- nobody got hurt and that's what you strive. We've had boat, airplane, and vehicle accidents where people have been injured; some have turned out okay, and some haven't."

Perhaps the greatest change to the campus security officer's job, she explains, is the addition of more buildings, each of which "poses its own little problems and quirks to check, or kids to hide in, of vandalism. It just adds a bit more to what you do each day."
The people, she emphasizes, is what keeps the security job from being stagnant.

"There are always new people -- new faces, new kids coming in, and it keeps things alive," Ricciardi says. "You run into kids from all walks of life, from different countries. Yet even with how different they are, they're all the same in a lot of ways. They have similar interests and problems."

And of course, the position also places the security officer occasionally in the inadvertent position of counselor.

"I've gone out to find a kid sitting at the end of a pier and they're not supposed to be out there. And you find out they're sitting out there crying because they miss mom or dad, or a friend of the family passed away. And you end up sitting and consoling them for half an hour or whatever it takes. Then you check with the health center and check in on them or their counselor to be sure they're going to be safe."

Ricciardi recalls receiving a phone call from "a little old lady in town. She said, 'I think I may have a runaway. He's wearing a little Woodcraft uniform and he wants directions to Ohio! He's eating milk and cookies in my kitchen now.'

"He was surprised and disheartened to see security show up," Ricciardi adds with a laugh. "I took him back and said, 'Hon, if you absolutely are so homesick you can't stand it and have to go home, I'll take you back to the Academy and we'll see that you get home safely.' Even though it was a short conversation, he was a nice little kid who was just too homesick to hang in there."

Over the years, she says, she's gotten to know a number of students and "it's always nice when they come back to visit, or bring their kids in and say, 'You're still working here!'"

And through those 36-plus years in campus security, Ricciardi has kept busy with other endeavors as well. On her second term as a member of Culver's town council (and her second run as council president), she has also served with Culver's EMS ambulance service since 1979.

"They needed drivers and at the time they had just gotten their first ambulance," she says of the then-new service. "Jim Bonine (former funeral home director who also drove the town ambulance) was getting out of it and they were starting up with this new, larger ambulance, so they were out looking for drivers. I was one of probably 10 or 12 new drivers who started, and better than half of us took the class the following year and became EMTs.

She also started working for the Lake Maxinkuckee Association's Lake Patrol in 1986.

"I started helping Rich (Sytsma, of the patrol) park cars for a few events around the lake, and he asked if I would do some shifts. I was deputized at the time, so I started."

She says she backed off a bit on her Lake Patrol hours when her great aunt Ruth Werner (now deceased) moved in with her in 2001. Five or six years later, Lake Patrol shifted to use of county police officers exclusively, ending her role entirely.

And though the "people on security have been a great bunch to work with" and she's enjoyed her campus security role, she's ready for a rest.

Besides keeping busy with town council, Ricciardi says she has "a lot of interests; I want to do some traveling and see some of the world that I haven't seen, which is a lot."

"And," she adds, "my dog loves the fact that I'm retired!"