HOLLAND — The city of Holland’s first Hispanic police officer has died. Abraham "Abe" Perales Sr., who spent 26 years with HPD, died at age 87 on Friday, May 2.


Perales was named the Officer of the Year at HPD in 1979. In retirement, he worked security for Holland Hospital and as a courier for Zeeland Community Hospital.


Colleagues remember Perales for his knowledge of the community, the ability to connect with people and diffuse situations, his sense of humor and for inspiring and influencing a long line of officers who came after him.


Retired HPD Sgt. Jeff Velthouse, who worked with Perales for eight years at HPD, referred to his friend as a "giant" in the Holland area.


"He was a dear, dear friend and a giant in the community," he said. "I have a lot of great memories and funny stories. I’m a better person for having known Abe Perales.


"He was very trusted, respected and loved by people in the community. He was just a terrific officer and person. Holland was blessed to have him."


Several local law enforcement professionals, including Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Kempker and HPD Chief of Public Safety Services Matt Messer, got their starts working with Perales at HPD.


"My first day on shift was with him," Messer said. "I would sit back on a call and just watch and learn. He helped me a great deal. To sit back and learn from a guy like that, I really respected him."


"I rode with Abe many times when I was doing reserve work," Kempker said. "I’ve reflected back on what I learned from Abe about communicating with people. It’s helped make my career coming through the ranks at the sheriff’s office a successful one."


Along with influencing current leaders, Perales paved the way for other Hispanic officers who came after him.


"He opened that door," Messer said. "There were a lot of Hispanic officers that came after him and there still are. People saw him as a role model and he opened that door for a lot of individuals."


"Abe was the first step in creating some diversity," Kempker said. "That is one of the things that we look at today, having a diverse workforce. Abe played a large role in helping other Hispanic people within the community. They were able to see his success and others followed in his place."


Those who worked with Perales were quick to note his ability to crack a joke and put a smile on anyone’s face.


"He made going to work enjoyable, the office was a fun place to be," said HPD Capt. Rick Walters, who began his career working with Perales. "He was one of those guys that was fun to be around and fun to listen too, especially as a young officer."


"He always was a storyteller," Velthouse said. "His delivery, he always had you laughing. If you were having a rough day, all you had to do was sit down with Abe for a few minutes. He would always put a smile on your face."


Another quality of Perales that stood out was his ability to connect with people.


"He was truly a community policing officer before they invented the terminology," Velthouse said. "As a young officer, I learned so much from him by watching him build relationships with the community."


"He could talk to anybody," Messer said. "He knew how to relate to people, deal with people, diffuse and solve problems — Abe was a master at that."


"For me, Abe humanized much of what we did," Walters said. "He was so relational. He knew people and their backgrounds, and he would take that context into every situation."


That communicating ability allowed Perales to get to know a lot of people, seemingly everyone in the city.


"He was easy to connect with, a very caring person," Kempker said. "His ability to connect with the community, to communicate and be on that level with people, he had a lot of respect."


"He knew just about everyone," Velthouse said. "He would always take time to listen and talk. He was real. People knew him, trusted him and respected him."


— Contact reporter Mitchell Boatman at mboatman@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @SentinelMitch.