Death Claims Two Former Fontana PD Chiefs In Less Than One Week

(April 9)  Fontana’s second and third police chiefs, Joseph Uhalley and Ben Abernathty, died five days apart, on March 23 and March 28.
A native of Akron, Ohio, Joe Uhalley was born in 1934, the son of Julia and Stephen Uhalley. The Uhalleys moved to Fontana in 1946. Joe Uhalley remained a resident of Fontana for 67 years. Uhalley was sworn in as an officer with Fontana PD in 1957. He was a 13-year veteran with the department when he was named police chief in 1970. He served in that capacity until 1981.
Frank Scialdone, who was later Fontana police chief as well as Fontana mayor, remembered Uhalley as unflappable and dedicated.
“I knew of Joe even before I was on the police force,” Scialdone said. “He was relatively young for a police chief. I followed his accomplishments  while I was in college and when I decided I wanted to move forward with a career in law enforcement, he hired me in 1973. He promoted me to detective and then later to sergeant. Joe was always looking forward. He wanted to upgrade the department from a technology standpoint and he went out and hustled grants from wherever he could. We did not have some of the most basic communications gear back in those days and he went out and got us that equipment. The department turned around during his tenure as chief.”
The morning of Uhalley’s funeral at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, his successor as chief, Ben Abernathy passed into eternity.
Abernathy, who was with the Fontana Police Department from .1961 until 1988, was born in Olathe, Colorado in 1931, to Clayton and Georgia Abernathy.  His family moved to Fontana in 1949. Ben Abernathy served in the United States Navy and attended college before joining the police department. He promoted to captain under Uhalley and succeeded him as police chief in 1981. During his tenure as chief the department was involved in a number of high profile cases, including Ricky Blue Sky’s murder of Nancy Charley.
Scialdone referred to Abernathy as “not only the heart and soul of our department, but the rock.” He said he was heavily influenced by Abernathy’s mentoring, saying Abernathy was “ahead of his time” with regard to policing technique.
“I will never forget my first meeting with Ben the week I was hired in 1973,” Scialdone said. “He called me into his office and discussed his expectations of me and his policing philosophy.  What he told me was profound and well ahead of its time in the policing world.  He told me that police officers are problem solvers and that was our primary job, to solve other people’s problems. Ben was talking about community policing long before the term became in vogue in the police world, long before the 1990s when there were classes throughout the country on the subject.”
Scialdone said Abernathy was   “low key and so even keeled. When times got tough, as we all know they do in our profession, he was the stabilizing factor, calm, thoughtful, analytical, and most important of all, supportive.  He was a leader who understood the importance of leadership and the importance of ‘serving, supporting and setting the example.’ By his high standards he served our community with honor and integrity.”
Scialdone said that “For those of us who knew Ben well, we knew how he really disliked attending council meetings while working at the PD.  He did not like politics.”
It came as a surprise to Scialdone therefore, when after Abernathy retired, he decided to run for city council. Scialdone intimated that Abernathy did so to protect the department from severe budget cuts during austere financial times facing the city.
“Ben cared deeply for our great department, not just when he was working but after he retired,” Scialdone said.  “The officers were ‘his boys.’  He was there to ‘protect his police department.’
Abernathy never relished the political limelight, Scialdone said.
“I will always remember Ben sitting behind the dais,  and as the meeting went on and on he would sit there with his head in his hand and you could see in his eyes him thinking ‘what am I doing here?’”

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