Fred Gaeckler volunteered at the Costa Mesa Police Department for 23 years. He died Aug. 6 in hospice care after taking a leave of absence from the department.

Fred Gaeckler volunteered at the Costa Mesa Police Department for 23 years. He died Aug. 6 in hospice care after taking a leave of absence from the department. (Courtesy Costa Mesa Police Department, DAILY PILOT / August 16, 2014)

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Fred Gaeckler, a Newport Beach man who spent 23 years of his life volunteering at the Costa Mesa Police Department, died this month. He was 76.

For more than a third of the department's 60-year history, Gaeckler was a fixture, according to officers who worked with him.

"Fred's infectious smile and his love for Costa Mesa PD and the Costa Mesa community made a lasting impression on us all," Lt. Mark Manley wrote in an email announcing Gaeckler's death to the department.

Gaeckler died Aug. 6 in hospice care, Manley wrote. He was suffering from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Gaeckler is survived by his wife Susan and his two daughters.

Crime Prevention Specialist Kelly Vucinic described Gaeckler as a man whose effect on Costa Mesa's policing was far bigger than his ego.

"He stayed in the background and did a lot of work early in the morning," she said.

But that work touched almost every part of the police department.

Gaeckler's involvement included — to name just a few things — work on the ABLE helicopter program, parking enforcement and crime prevention.

He also brought other volunteers into the fold. Gaeckler helped develop the department's first Citizens Academy in 1995.

In a 2007 interview with the Daily Pilot, Gaeckler said it was chance that brought him to volunteering at the station. "I was retired and looking for something to do," he said. "One day I saw an ad in the Daily Pilot, and that was it. It just looked good."

But Gaeckler had been absent from the police department in recent months. His diagnosis and treatment started interfering with his day-to-day work, and he scaled back his volunteer time late last summer, police said.

Even after his death, Vucinic said she was hesitant to talk to a reporter about Gaeckler because he always shied away from publicity — even turning aside nominations for awards.

"Never wanting credit for anything," Vucinic said.

In 2005, however, he did receive the Costa Mesa Mayor's Award.

At that point, then Mayor Allan Mansoor said Gaeckler had worked 16,700 hours volunteering at the department for the last 14 years.

"He just wanted to do whatever he could for the better of the department," Vucinic said.