Unofficial police ambassador dies

The Newport Beach Police Department said it lost a patriarch when Earl Fusselman, a 96-year-old who spent thousands of hours volunteering at the agency, died last week.

Fusselman and his surprise birthday parties were familiar around the station, where he put in 4,631 hours of volunteer time since 1999.

"He really became an icon for us," police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said, "not only an icon of the Police Department because he was out there in the community as an ambassador, but an icon for the volunteer program."

Fusselman took that ambassador role to the streets of Newport each week.

As part of a three-man team in his later years, Fusselman and his partners would make vacation checks at houses where residents who were going out of town had requested a patrol.

Every Wednesday — before stopping for a massive cinnamon roll at Rose Bakery Cafe in Corona del Mar— Fusselman would precisely organize an itinerary of 20 or 30 vacation checks, lining up stops in the optimal order.

"He was always ready to go at 6:15 in the morning," said Gerald Scarboro, another volunteer who partnered with Fusselman for eight years. "Always in uniform. Always a bright guy."

After the checks — without ever looking at the odometer — Fusselman had a habit of telling his partners how many miles they'd traveled. He was never off by more than two miles.

"You should've called him Earl 'Garmin' Fusselman," joked Sandy Meadows, referring to the GPS brand. She went through Newport's first volunteer training sessions with Fusselman.

Fusselman died peacefully under medical care with his family around him Saturday, according to the department.

About three weeks earlier, he'd been out on patrol just like every Wednesday.

At his 94th birthday party in 2011, Fusselman talked with the Daily Pilot about his active life and longevity.

"I have no excuse," he said. "I guess it's living for something to do on this earth. I have no idea how much longer I'm going to live — time enough to do somebody some good."

According to the department, that service was typical of the man's life, which was packed with volunteerism up until his last days.

Fusselman grew up on a farm in Kansas and then embarked on Army life.

He and his wife, Gigi, later owned a chain of dry cleaning plants in Los Angeles County.

Fusselman was a lifelong Rotarian and executive board member of the America Legion Post 291 in Newport Beach for six years. Also, he delivered Meals on Wheels for 10 years.

"He led an incredible life, and gave freely of his wisdom and perspective," Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson said in a statement. "....We could always look forward to his smile, his friendly greeting and his gentle heart. He was infinitely kind and incredibly sharp, with a remarkable memory and sense of humor.

"He not only took the time to learn your name, but then he would call you by name every time you met him, without fail."

Scarboro and partner Sal Grecco visited Fusselman in the hospital last week. They brought a cinnamon roll from Rose Bakery.

Grecco smiled when he talked about Fusselman on Tuesday, remembering their last weekly patrol.

"My wife always said, 'Why is it every Wednesday you come home happy?'" Sal said. "He will be missed."

Fusselman is survived by a stepson and stepdaughter, four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, according to the department.

After Gigi's death in 1988, Fusselman would visit her grave with an armful of flowers each week after church, his partners said.

A memorial for Fusselman will be held at 10 a.m. Dec. 13 at the Pacific View Memorial Park, 3500 Pacific View Drive in Corona del Mar.

A reception will follow at the American Legion Post 291, 215 E. 15th St. in Newport Beach.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Rotary International.

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