By Greg Gielczyk

SCOTTVILLE–John O’Hagan once wore a badge and carried a gun. 

And now he’s an instructor for the police academy.

Back in the day, he was a sergeant for the Manistee County Sheriff’s Department. Later, he became Undersheriff and then assumed the top job as the Sheriff.

After 31 years, he retired from the department (2019) and accepted a full-time faculty position as a law enforcement instructor at West Shore Community College.

As an adjunct professor, O’Hagan — a graduate of Manistee Catholic Central High School — gets to teach the things he was taught, but in his own style.

He no longer teaches full-time at the police academy, and teaches one or two classes in the fall.

He also proctors for the fitness program for all the upcoming officers, whether it’s for the Department of Natural Resources or Parks Officer.

“I teach a variety of different classes,” said O’Hagan. “Anything from basic patrol operations, to ethics, interpersonal skills … things like that. And I really, really enjoy doing it because I did it as the sheriff, I did it as a road officer, so now I just take that experience to the classroom.

“I still have a lot of energy, and I like to get my students engaged, so I still enjoy teaching in the law enforcement arena. I think one of the toughest things I’ve found so far in the 3 years I’ve been retired but teaching in school is you have to stay up on a lot of the law changes.”

O’Hagan started with the Manistee County Sheriff’s Department in January of 1989 after working at several smaller agencies, including Hart, before being transferred to Manistee.

He was promoted to sergeant in 1999, and was moved up to the position of undersheriff in 2007. He held that position for 10 years.He was elected Sheriff in 2017 when former Sheriff Dale Kowalkowski decided not to run again.

“I think the greatest job out of all those would have been road sergeant,” O’Hagan said. “You have supervisor capabilities, and you’re still working the guys. The higher you move up the chain, the more responsibility you have. I was very fortunate to be the undersheriff for a number of years with Dale Kowalkowski.

Referee John O’Hagan at the Breslin Center in March of 2022

“It really helped, because I got to be up close and personal and learn a lot from him before that day came when he said ‘I’m not running again, you’re ready. It’s time for you to be the sheriff,'” he said, “Being the sheriff was never really in my realm of thoughts. It really wasn’t until I got promoted to undersheriff and he (Kowalkowski) planted the seed.”

O’Hagan graduated from Manistee Catholic in 1985 after a successful athletic career, and eventually became a referee, working for a time with the late Roy Swiatlowski and later Dave Nemecek.

He’ll be starting his 38th year wearing the striped shirt and carrying a whistle when the 2022-23 basketball season rolls around.

“Schedule-wise was interesting,” O’Hagan said. “I just wouldn’t take games if I knew my work schedule. But if I did take a game and it ran a little late, or overtime I could call partners and ask them ‘Hey, can you cover for me until I get there?’

“I found myself changing in the car, driving through snow storms,” he said. “All kinds of crazy things. What was really interesting and probably the best part of that, is I was a D.A.R.E. officer, I was out in the community and I knew all the students from driver’s training.”

O’Hagan also umpired high school baseball and softball through the 2011 season (25 years) and decided to leave the diamond to watch his own children play..

O’Hagan realized a dream when he was assigned to officiate the MHSAA Division 4 girls state basketball championship game between Fowler against Plymouth Christian in 2022.