WEST CHICAGO – Growing up in West Chicago, Michael Browning knew the kind of person he wanted to be.
His dream was to become a police officer, but not just any officer: He wanted to serve his hometown.
After turning down a position with the St. Charles Police Department, Browning had his dedication rewarded. He became a West Chicago police cadet in 1988 and took his oath to become a full-time officer Aug. 25, 1991.
But less than one year later, Browning’s time with the force was tragically cut short when he responded to a reported break-in at a West Chicago car dealership and was struck and killed by a car as it was being stolen. Browning was 23 years old.
Even though the young officer may no longer serve the city of West Chicago, the community and its police department continue to remember him.
“He loved his job, even on the bad days,” said Browning’s dad, Bob. “He liked people, and he liked helping people.”
The second annual Michael Browning Memorial 5K Run/Walk to Remember will be held Saturday in West Chicago, just one day short of the anniversary of Browning’s death April 20, 1992.
The run was started in 2013 by West Chicago Police Detective Robbi Peterson as an extension of a trust founded in Browning’s name in 1992 by one of his field training officers.
Proceeds from the run go to the trust, which provides two $500 scholarships each school year to students studying criminal justice at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, just like Browning did.
Retired Officer Joe Trefilek started the trust through West Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 85 as a way to honor Browning by offering a scholarship in his name.
Bob Browning said it’s what his son would have wanted.
Peterson took over the management of the trust after Trefilek’s retirement in 2009 and decided he wanted to do something that would involve more of the community.
“I want the community to remember the price he paid,” Peterson said.
In its first two years, the run has seen strong support through sponsorships from many local businesses.
The first memorial run raised about $3,000 for the trust, and nearly 100 runners participated.
This year, Peterson added a one-mile fun run, and he hopes to see 150 come out to enjoy the day.
Registration numbers are currently short of that goal, but he’d like to see the improved weather change that.
In addition to the trust and now the run, West Chicago has continued to honor Browning’s memory in other ways as well.
Each year, West Chicago police officers remember Browning by visiting his grave site.
The run will share that tradition with other community members by taking runners on a route that goes by the cemetery.
“I want to make sure he’s not forgotten,” Peterson said.
The ramp at Roosevelt Road and Neltnor Boulevard in West Chicago was renamed “Michael Browning Way” in 2007 as another way to honor what Browning did for the city he loved.
Browning was the third police officer to be killed in the line of duty in West Chicago. The first two deaths occurred in the 1920s and 1960s. All three officers are remembered in a display at the West Chicago Police Station.
For Bob Browning, it means a great deal to have so many people give of their time to keep his son’s memory alive.
When Michael Browning died, it was very difficult for his dad. Although Bob has continued to live in West Chicago, he sold the house he and his son shared within a year after Michael died.
“We had a great father-son relationship,” Bob Browning said. “We could sit down and talk about pretty much everything.”
Although Trefilek is no longer involved with the scholarship fund he started, he hopes to see it last forever in remembrance of the young officer he helped to train, whom he still visits each year at the cemetery.
“I’m going to do it until I’m gone, let him know we’re still thinking of him,” Trefilek said.
If you go
What: Michael Browning Memorial 5K Run/Walk to Remember
When: Registration opens at 6:30 a.m., Fun Run at 7:30 a.m., 5K at 8 a.m.
Where: Begins at Turner Elementary School, 750 Ingalton St., West Chicago
How to help
Contribute to the Michael Browning Memorial Scholarship Fund by sending donations to the DuPage Credit Union, 625 E. Roosevelt Road, Wheaton, IL 60187, in care of the Michael Browning Memorial Scholarship Fund.