The 19th Annual Cycle Across Illinois is an event to raise money for families of police officers who have fallen in the line of duty. A group of 100 bicyclists is riding from Springfield to Chicago, stopping at police stations and village halls to honor the fallen.

Among the 18 officers being honored this year is Forest Park Police Officer Nick Kozak, 50, who died on Nov. 27, 2021, after contracting COVID-19 while on duty. The group is arriving at the Forest Park Police Department on Sunday, July 16, at 11 a.m. to honor Nick. All are invited to attend the ceremony. 

Nick served in the Forest Park Police Department for 19 years. His work as a police officer, though, was interrupted by lengthy deployments overseas. As a member of the U.S. Army National Guard Special Operations Force, he traveled to Afghanistan to provide food and other essentials to villagers. Nick was a natural for the job. He spoke multiple languages and easily made friends among the villagers. 

Nick was also a friendly face in our village. Plus, he was a great storyteller. Al Mollsen and Nick were kindred spirits because they both grew up in Villa Park. Al purchased a two-flat in Forest Park nine years ago and had it converted to a single-family home. Nick would call Al to keep him informed on the progress of the project. 

Al and his brother, Adam, are riding in memory of their father, Lombard Police Sgt. Allan A. Mollsen. He suffered a fatal heart attack while arresting a domestic battery suspect on Sept. 29, 1986. He was only 39.

This is Al’s fifth ride for the charity. For the past three months, he has been training for this grueling journey by biking 100 miles a week. During the ride, they will have a large support team to keep the riders fed and hydrated. The support team sets up bike racks, while providing sandwiches, snacks and liquids. Colleges and universities along the way reach out to the riders to provide them with shelter for the night. This year, Knox College is offering to house them. 

Besides the physical ordeal, the ride is also mentally challenging. They have very emotional meetings with broken families. Al recalls the family of a 24-year-old fallen CPD officer. The young widow had three small children, one of them an infant in her arms. The mom and kids were crying. 

At the dedication ceremonies, the riders wear bracelets bearing the name of the officer and they recount the officer’s career. Families are invited to say a few words but some are too private, or too upset, to talk. The families are offered counseling services and kids are invited to retreats. Al believes the ceremonies offer some degree of healing. The riders also offer financial support. Al has raised $3,000 this year. 

Some small towns in southern Illinois go all out for the riders. One town has a band perform and treats them to a feast. However, the farther north they travel, the less friendly the residents can be. By the time they reach the Chicago area, some residents yell obscenities. This is brutal for the bikers.

Al is expecting a good reception in Forest Park. The fire department and police department have been notified of their arrival. Many Forest Parkers who knew Nick are expected to attend. Nick’s widow, Maureen, also serves our community as a dispatcher for first responders. 

Nick Kozak was a big-hearted guy who cared for people both here and overseas. We can support his family and other broken families with donations to this worthy program.

To donate:

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.