Yale Police Department Officer Tristan Kiekel first met Charles Johnston ’64 when Johnston was walking his dogs on the New Haven Green in 2016. The two became friends, and since then, Kiekel has been a companion to the alum, helping him with hospital visits and veterinary costs.
On Feb. 8, Kiekel was awarded with a plaque for going “above and beyond her duties” by Class President Terry Holcombe ’64 and Class Secretary Anthony Lavely ’64. She was awarded the title of honorary member of the class of 1964. She received the commendation during the annual class of 1964 meeting in Evans Hall. The plaque cites her efforts to assist Johnston — a 1964 class member in need — with “a Fund-Raising Campaign to cover Medical Costs” and treating him to Thanksgiving dinner. She did not know she would be receiving the commendation before the meeting.
“As they read it to me, I started to tear up,” Kiekel said. “This was one of the most rewarding moments of my career, to get such an honor to become a member of the class of 1964 because I helped Charlie from my heart, and the class of 1964 gave me this commendation from their hearts as well.”
After the two met on the Green, they developed a friendship when they started seeing each other almost daily. Although they lost touch when Kiekel went on maternity leave, the officer ran into Johnston again one year later, and they reconnected and have talked almost every day since.
Johnston, a violinist for the New Haven Chamber Orchestra, told the News that he could not think of anyone who deserved to be an honorary class member more than Officer Kiekel.
“I’m very happy that I can introduce her as one of my classmates now, although the age gap might surprise some people,” Johnston said. “She’s my best friend in New Haven and someone I feel I can turn to if I’m in trouble. I would be astonished if she didn’t have a positive impact on everyone she knows. I’m not really sure how I would have been able to get by if she hadn’t been around. She’s just nice — it comes
from her naturally.”
Holcombe heard about Kiekel when she reached out to him to help circulate a GoFundMe campaign to the 1964 class. The campaign aimed to raise $2,300 for surgery to repair the ACL of Johnston’s dog, a Shiba Inu named Nell. According to Kiekel, Johnston only had enough money to cover food and rent but deeply loved his dogs. While Kiekel had already raised half of the money before reaching out to Holcombe, the class of 1964 helped raise the rest of the money for the surgery. Nell is now fully recovered.
During Holcombe’s efforts to raise funds for Nell’s surgery, Kiekel also reached out to Johnston’s old residential college, Jonathan Edwards, to fundraise for Johnston. JE Head of College W. Mark Saltzman invited both Kiekel and Johnston to the college for Thanksgiving dinner with the JE fellows, which helped raise funds.
“I am delighted to hear that Officer Kiekel is being honored in this way,” Saltzman told the News. “We were delighted to have them at JE for dinner. Mr. Johnston shared stories of his time in the college and made some new friends.”
When learning about the fundraising campaign, Lavely and Holcombe also discovered Kiekel’s many efforts to be a companion and aide to Johnston, extending to driving him home from the hospital. Lavely suggested that Kiekel should become an honorary classmate, and Holcombe agreed.
“I concurred not only because of her personal actions but also because it reflected well on the dedication of Yale’s police force, which is often criticized on other occasions,” Holcombe said. “When she came forward [to receive her plaque], there was an immediate standing ovation from the 24 council
Kiekel mentioned that her colleagues at the YPD were supportive and excited about her achievement. After receiving her award, Kiekel and her colleagues were asked to join some of the class members for dinner.
“They are wonderful people,” Kiekel said of the class of 1964. “Many of them joined the Peace Corps after graduation and helped rebuild third world countries. And, Terry Holcombe and his wife run a program called Sunrise Café that serves breakfast for those in need. They serve about 35,000 meals a year out of the basement of Saint Paul and Saint James Church.”
After connecting with Johnston through Kiekel, additional YPD officers and members of the class of 1964 have developed relationships with Johnston. According to Kiekel, alumni have taken him out to dinner at Mory’s, and Officer Ariel Melendez, one of Kiekel’s colleagues, accompanies Kiekel and Johnston to walk the dogs three times a week.
Although Kiekel does not believe receiving her commendation has changed her outlook — given that she became a police officer to make changes in people’s lives — she believes it has opened her eyes to just how much of an impact she can have by simply being someone’s friend.
“I think it’s important as a police officer to form strong bonds with the community you work in, and that can be achieved by being a genuine, caring person and treating people the way you would want your family members to be treated,” Kiekel said. “Yale PD is on the streets every day and interact with the New Haven community daily, and many of us have connected and created strong bonds with members in the community. Whether it’s helping an animal or child or giving directions, many experiences are positive.”
Johnston said he enjoys walking his dogs on Yale’s campus and
hearing about students’ lives.
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