Frank Slabenak knew he wanted to be a police officer at a young age.
Unlike many boys who play cops and robbers, Slabenak's interest compelled him to actually do something about it. At the age of 12, Slabenak became a cadet with the Palos Park Police Department.
Seven years later, this 19-year-old man from Palos Park is still with the department, working as a clerk, and is currently studying criminal justice at Moraine Valley Community College. Within two years, he plans to graduate with an associate degree and start part-time training to become a police officer.
Slabenak was recently awarded the Palos Park Police Cadet Scholarship to help pay for schooling. But the money is coming at a somber time. His father, also named Frank Slabenak, died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 56 in November. The loss has been hard on the family, both emotionally and financially, as the older Frank Slabenak's auto repair business was the sole source of income for the family.
"If wasn’t for this scholarship, I wouldn’t be going to college," he said. The cadet didn't qualify for Pell grants this year but might next year.
On top of taking classes, Slabenak's work is currently providing the only income for his family through his part-time job at the police department. His mother, Linda, is disabled and unable to work.
The department and village threw their support behind the family after the death, he said.
“They’re like a second family," Slabenak said.
The scholarship, which goes to cadets pursing criminal justice degrees, is sponsored by the Palos Park Police Department Citizens on Patrol Service.
“While dealing with his grief and the loss of his father, Frank has continued to be a role model to other cadets and shared his experiences of suddenly becoming the man of the house overnight," said Palos Park Commissioner Dan Polk.
"The men and women of the Palos Park Police Department have seen first hand the man he has become and know Frank’s dad taught him many things, but most importantly his dad was a model for the person that Frank wants to be for the rest of my life."
Slabenak has put a few things on hold since his father passed away. He raced stock cars at tracks in Illinois and surrounding states. It's a hobby and an interest that he's had since he was 15. And it was something they shared. His father, who owned an auto repair shop, worked on the stock cars between races.
The day before his father died, the two were watching NASCAR on television.
"It seemed like a normal Sunday," Slabenak said. The aneurysm struck while his father was asleep.
Slabenak is grateful for the scholarship, which is allowing work toward his goal.
"It’s allowing me to continue my career and my schooling so I can get to the point of being a police officer," he said.
Being an officer runs in the family. Slabenak's grandfather was with the Chicago Police Department for 30 years.
“My mom always wanted me to do what he did.”