The day before Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka’s funeral, a
man known around that department as Tennessee showed up at
headquarters. He was there to help with the funeral -- in particular,
getting the officers ready for it by shining their shoes.
Tennessee, 29, whose real name is Iran Fleming, has honed his
shoe-shining skills over eight years, three of them while working for
the Glendale-based Warehouse Uniforms. Along with providing
Tennessee’s shoe-shining service, it supplies local departments with
uniforms and accessories.
Traditionally, police officers and firefighters go to Fleming at
the Glendale shop, where the owners give him a space to work in
exchange for the business he brings in.
For Pavelka’s funeral, he made a house call for Burbank’s 160
officers. Pavelka, 26, was killed Nov. 15 in a gun battle during a
traffic stop at the Ramada Inn, 2900 N. San Fernando Blvd.
Starting early on Nov. 20, Fleming worked in a quiet basement
hallway across from a wall of shoeboxes. By the next morning,
Fleming, with the support of Warehouse Uniforms owner Julie Banz and
another shoe shiner from Banz’s Los Angeles shop, had prepared 120
pairs of shoes and 20 belts.
“He is outstanding,” Police Chief Thomas Hoefel said of Fleming,
as he took 10 minutes out for a shine, just after a press conference
in front of a hoard of reporters in the department’s lobby. “Officers
take special pride in their appearance, especially when they are
honoring a fallen officer.”
Fleming said he felt obligated to drop by the department and
volunteer his services. As he shined, he remembered Pavelka, an
officer who had only 10 months on the job at the time of his death,
because the rookie wanted to make a great impression on department
brass. Part of that was by having shoes shined by Fleming at Banz’s
“He wanted to make sure everything with his uniform was right so
he’d be at the top of the class,” Fleming said. “He was a good kid.
He’d waited so long to get on the force.”
By the Nov. 21 funeral, the Glendale store’s staff had been
through one of its most intense weeks of business since Banz and her
husband bought it in 1998.
“There haven’t been tragedies like this one,” Banz said. “This one
really hit very close to home because of the significance of the act
and because we work a lot with Burbank.”