Art for a hero

A mur­al of Chuck Cas­sidy, a Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer who was killed in the line of duty in 2007, was un­veiled on the walls of the Penn-Crisp Gym last Wed­nes­day. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Chuck Cas­sidy may be best-known as a Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer who was killed in the line of duty al­most sev­en years ago, but there was a lot more to the man than his badge and gun. For ex­ample, Cas­sidy coached girls bas­ket­ball and soft­ball, along with soc­cer for both girls and boys with the Crispin Gar­dens Ath­let­ic Club in Holme Circle.

“There were girls who played for him a long time and nev­er knew he was a po­lice of­ficer un­til he died,” Cas­sidy’s wid­ow, Judy, told the North­east Times last Wed­nes­day after loc­al youth sports groups, elec­ted of­fi­cials and the city’s Mur­al Arts Pro­gram un­veiled a mur­al of the slain cop on the walls of the Penn-Crisp Gym.

Chuck Cas­sidy, 54, was shot fatally by an armed rob­ber at an East Oak Lane Dunkin’ Donuts on Oct. 31, 2007. The patrol of­ficer was as­signed to a spe­cial anti-rob­bery de­tail in the 35th dis­trict at the time fol­low­ing a series of gun­point heists in­volving busi­nesses in the area. Cas­sidy was mak­ing a routine vis­it to the dough­nut shop when he walked in on a crime in pro­gress. The rob­ber in­stantly turned to­ward the front door, walked up to Cas­sidy and shot him. The crook stole the of­ficer’s gun and fled, but was cap­tured, con­victed and sen­tenced to death. 

“I re­mem­ber that tra­gic day, but to­night is really a cel­eb­ra­tion. We get to me­mori­al­ize what kind of per­son Chuck really was,” City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on said, de­scrib­ing Cas­sidy as hero­ic for be­ing a ded­ic­ated fath­er, youth coach and pub­lic ser­vant.

Penn-Crisp Board Pres­id­ent Tony Coco and Hen­on de­veloped the concept for the me­mori­al and con­vinced the na­tion­ally-ac­claimed Mur­al Arts Pro­gram to ad­opt the pro­ject. Clas­sic­ally trained artist Jon Laidack­er cre­ated the work, as­sisted by Charles New­man, Laura Velez and Thomas Walton.

The mur­al cov­ers the walls of the gym lobby and a multi-pur­pose lunch and meet­ing room. The primary im­age fea­tures a big­ger-than-life ren­der­ing of Cas­sidy at ease without his po­lice uni­form. Ac­cord­ing to Judy Cas­sidy, the im­age was taken from a wed­ding re­cep­tion photo, al­though the artists sub­sti­tuted a white polo shirt for the sub­ject’s form­al at­tire. 

“I wanted a more re­laxed pic­ture of him,” Judy Cas­sidy said. “Every­body al­ways pic­tures him in uni­form.”

Judy col­lab­or­ated with the artists to design the mur­al, as did her daugh­ters Katie and Colby and son John. The back­ground is primar­ily sky blue with bands of green and gold. There are shaded im­ages of youths play­ing vari­ous sports, as well as col­or ren­der­ings of a big shade tree and the Cen­ter City sky­line as seen from a grassy Fair­mount Park. Not every artist is cut out to be a mur­al­ist, ac­cord­ing to Jane Golden, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Mur­al Arts Pro­gram.

“You have to be able to ne­go­ti­ate and com­prom­ise and give people the dig­nity and re­spect they de­serve,” Golden said. “The artist paints the mur­al, but the vis­ion comes from the people we work with.”

“This from the start has really been a per­fect pro­ject,” Laidack­er said.

Opened in 1998, Penn-Crisp Gym serves two area youth pro­grams: Crispin Gar­dens A.C. and Penn-Academy Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation. City Coun­cil­man Den­nis O’Bri­en helped the groups de­vel­op the gym and ob­tain state fund­ing to build it when O’Bri­en was a mem­ber of the Pennsylvania House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives. 

O’Bri­en also helped ded­ic­ate the mur­al, as did Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 5 Pres­id­ent John McNesby, who ex­pects the mur­al to keep Cas­sidy’s memory alive among fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“Chuck was taken from us a couple of weeks after I took of­fice in 2007. Since then, I’ve really be­come close friends with Judy and her fam­ily,” McNesby said. “And I’d give any­thing to get Chuck back. In ten, twenty and thirty years, kids are go­ing to be com­ing in­to this gym say­ing, ‘Who was that?’ And I think that’s what we all want.” ••

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