Officials will recognize longtime resident, former police officer, business owner and coach Dan Hull on Feb. 26 during a special ceremony to kick off that night’s meeting of the village board, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at the village hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.
Hull, 74, is expected to attend the meeting, where Village President Kit Ketchmark will read a proclamation honoring a man whose involvement in the community has been ubiquitous for more than five decades.
“He’s probably one of the most recognized names in the village,” said Police Chief James Episcopo, who sought to recognize Hull publicly. “I never got to work with him, but there are a ton of great Danny Hull stories. Everybody respects him.”
Episcopo has a unique perspective on Hull. It was Hull’s retirement from the Brookfield Police Department in 1987 that opened the spot Episcopo filled. Had Hull not decided to take up his cousin’s offer to buy a local tavern, Episcopo might not be chief today.
“I always told him I had huge shoes to fill,” Episcopo said. “You do want to fill that void and be that kind of guy yourself.”
Just what kind of guy was Hull as a police officer?
“The guys used to say to me, ‘If you want to be a social worker, you should have been a social worker,'” said Hull, adding he took that kind of dismissal of his attitude toward policing as an “insult.”
“If I pulled someone over and they were driving without a license, it wasn’t like I just caught John Gacy,” said Hull, referring to the notorious serial killer. “You never know, it might be the one time in their life where they really need a break.”
It was an outlook informed by his childhood, growing up in a housing project near Midway Airport on Chicago’s Southwest Side in the 1940s and 1950s. His five siblings, three boys and two girls, were children of his mother and her first husband, whose alcoholism ended up breaking up the family, with all five children landing in an orphanage.
His mom, a wedding singer, remarried during the war to Frank Hull; Dan was born in 1943. After his dad returned from the service, he got a job as a truck driver and, one by one, removed the children from his wife’s first marriage from the orphanage, raising them as his own children.
When the family moved to Brookfield in 1957 as Dan started high school, it was a difficult transition. Although he was an excellent athlete, he played basketball just one year at Riverside-Brookfield High School.
“It was hard moving where I moved from to this environment,” Hull said. “People here had so much. It was hard for me to adapt.”
After graduating from high school, Hull worked some unsatisfying jobs and in 1962 joined the Air Force, serving for four years including two overseas in Japan. In the service he blossomed as an athlete, playing football, baseball and softball on the base team.
Upon leaving the Air Force, he returned home and started coaching local Little League teams, school teams and teams at Triton College – from kids to adults – for decades, finally calling it a day just a few years ago.
“The one thing that amazed me as I got older, that fifth- and sixth-grade girls team, that’d lucky if they could score three baskets in a game, meant no less to me than coaching a top guys team,” Hull said. “I just loved coaching.”
Hull’s greatest coaching claim to fame came in 1985, when he skippered the Brookfield National Little League girls softball team to a Little League World Series title, the first time a Midwest team had ever won the tournament.
Afterward inside the state capitol in Springfield, the General Assembly declared Brookfield the “Home of Softball in Illinois.”
Hull is still in touch with his former players. Social media has been an increasingly important way for Hull, now confined to a wheelchair and suffering the effects of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, to stay connected, though his former charges drop by the house on Jefferson Avenue as well.
The key to coaching, he said, was that “you got to watch out that it doesn’t mean more to you than the kids. Once you learn that, it takes a load off your mind, because the kids respect that. It’s not me all the time.”
Being a police officer wasn’t about him either. Though he rose to the rank of lieutenant and may have been in line for the chief’s job, he walked away to become a saloon keeper.
“I didn’t like the administrative part of police work,” he said.
Hull joined the police force in 1967 after seeing an ad in the window of Fisher’s Pharmacy (now Brookfield Ale House) while eating across the street at what was then the Purple Plum.
He filled out an application, took a test, sat through an interview and landed the job. On his first day, they gave him a badge and a gun, paired him off with a veteran officer and sent him out on the street.
“There were no training standards, no academies. I had no clue what to do. I didn’t know if I’d make my probation period,” said Hull, who would only attend the police academy after being on the job for a couple of years. He’d later attend the FBI Leadership Academy in 1984.
He particularly enjoyed his duty early on as the police officer in charge of driving the ambulance to medical calls. A firefighter would hop in alongside, and they’d go to a house, take the ailing resident out on a stretcher and get that person to the hospital.
“I loved working with people and helping them out,” Hull said. “I definitely wasn’t one of them that had to shoot somebody. If it was slow, people would be mowing their lawns and I’d just stop and talk to them. I got to know so many people in Brookfield.”
At the age of 44 after 20 years as a police officer, he decided to retire and take over his cousin’s tavern, Harold’s Hideaway at 8436 Brookfield Ave. (now ZuBar and Grill). Rechristened Handsome Hull’s – he says he doesn’t remember the origin of the nickname, but admits to answering, when asked, “Look at me!”
The bar took off in the four and a half years Hull owned it. While undoubtedly a success, the job, he said, was the hardest he ever had.
“I sold it because it was killing me,” said Hull of the tavern, which had a 4 a.m. license. “I worked around the clock and it was always packed.”
All the time, he continued coaching softball and women’s basketball at Triton College and was raising four kids – Katie, Jenny, Becky and Danny — with his wife, Mary Margaret, a teacher who spent 13 years in the classroom at St. Barbara School in Brookfield in addition to other Catholic schools in the area. The two will be married 49 years in April.
Hull later spent 14 years working in internal affairs for the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, retiring for good in 2008.
A highlight of each year, until 2015, was the annual end-of-summer, day-long party at the Hull home. More than 200 people would pack the backyard. As the sun set, the show would start on the deck – Danny and the Danettes – Hull, along with his older brothers and sisters.
“I called it ‘The Group of a Million Moves’ and they were behind me and they were in their 80s, and we did ‘Little Darlin’ and ’10 Commandments of Love.’ We had great entertainment.”
It was a family reunion – of all of Hull’s families, blood and otherwise. Friends, neighbors, teammates, ex-players, former colleagues and employees.
“You couldn’t see a blade of grass in the yard every year,” Hull said. “It was well known around Brookfield. We never knew who was coming. Word got out, and it was always packed.”