Sunday, May 27, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando neighbors: Joe Grella's career touched earth, oceans and outer space

Q: How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?

I've been here in Spring Hill for almost 17 years, having moved from Islip, Long Island, N.Y., in 1996. I was born and raised on Long Island.

Who are the members of your family?

My sister, Maryann Bleier, lives on Long Island, and I have an older brother, Larry Grella, who lives in Hudson with his family.

My daughter, Kristine Grella, lives on the island with her husband, Daniel, and their three children — twins Hannah and Nicholas, 10, and Daniel, 2. My son, Joseph, lives in Farmingdale, N.Y., with his wife, Kristin, and son Joseph.

Arlene Tack and I have been together for the past 17 years.

Tell us about your career.

In 1960, I enlisted in the Navy. I eventually attended electrical school at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, and while there volunteered for submarine duty. I was accepted for training, and was allowed to complete electrical school first.

I reported to the submarine base in Groton, Conn. School lasted almost 16 weeks. When it was done, I filled out a "dream sheet," kind of a wish list of where I'd like to be home-ported.

I was assigned to the USS Angler, SSK 240, and reported for duty in November 1961. At the time, the boat was being retrofitted with new sonar equipment at the shipyard in Philadelphia. The hull number meant she was a submersible ship killer. We were, at the time, state of the art with new sonar to hunt other submarines and destroy them. It was the Cold War era, and we played a lot of tag with the Russians.

Aboard the Angler, Orem Campbell served as the chief of boat. He was 35 years old at the time, and we called him "Soupy." I served with Soupy for almost three years and traveled halfway around the world with him, both above and below the seas. It was an adventure. We were not as close back then as we are now.

I left the Navy and spent the next nine years working as an electronic technician for Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp. on Long Island.

At Grumman I worked on the lunar excursion module, which put Neil Armstrong on the moon. While working, I had gone back to school under the GI Bill, studying for a degree in electrical engineering.

About that time, the bottom was falling out of the defense industry, and since I had always wanted to be a police officer, I thought it was the perfect time for a career change. I filled out a Civil Service application for the Nassau County Police Department. It took two years before I was accepted to the academy. In the meantime, I had changed my major from engineering to police sciences and continued working toward a degree.

After being hired by the NCPD, my first assignment was with the 6th Precinct. Again, I decided to go back to school to further my education. I received a bachelor's degree in criminology from the New York State Institute of Technology.

I was promoted and transferred to the 7th Precinct in Massapequa, where I served as patrol supervisor. I was also captain of the department's pistol team. Later, I was asked by the commissioner's office to switch to internal investigations. For three years, I worked on medical fraud investigations.

Job assignments took me out of town a great deal. One of my last cases brought me to Spring Hill. After contacting the Hernando Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Tom Mylander offered me and my partner all the assistance we needed. We worked closely for about six weeks with the Deputy Scott Bierwiler and Deputy George Smith, who were assigned to help us in our investigation. The assignment was concluded successfully.

In 1996, when it was time for me to retire, I knew I wanted to live in this area. Spring Hill really reminded me of Levittown on Long Island, only with palm trees, so this is where I built my home.

What kinds of activities are you involved in now?

Arlene and I keep busy maintaining our 5 acres in Spring Hill, and often the homes of our snowbird friends while they're away. A few times a week we play cards with friends. Each spring, we plant a small vegetable garden. This year we're trying blueberries.

I'm also the president of Nassau Blue, an organization for retired Nassau County police officers. We have more than 100 members and their spouses. The group meets for lunch on the first Saturday of the month at the IHOP on Commercial Way in Spring Hill.

In addition to being a member of Nassau Blue, I'm a member of the Retired Police Officers of the State of New York, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the Superior Officer Association, the National Rifle Association, American Legion Post 186 and the Submarine Veterans Weeki Wachee Base.

Do you have any special hobbies?

I'm still an avid handgun shooter. I have my own pistol range and manufacture my own ammunition. Reloads are half the cost of new ammo. I even tried melting down recovered bullets and making fishing sinkers for myself and friends.

As you can tell I like being outdoors, including fishing, nature walks and swimming.

I also like to go hunting with my son. He has his own hunt camp in New York.

What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?

When we can, Arlene and I like watching the sunsets at Pine Island. We also enjoy dinner shows at the Show Palace, attending events at the Hernando County Fairgrounds and entertaining friends at our home.

What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?

I'd like to see county residents given priority at county parks and beaches. If our county taxes pay for the attractions, we should get special considerations.

Maybe the county could issue parking permits for residents, and certain times of the year the parks and beaches could be open only to residents. It would give us a sense of community. That would be my only complaint.

Other than that, Hernando County has it all — eateries, shopping, major highways, houses of worship and public transportation.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

It's been 50 years since I received my submarine warfare insignia (also known as the "dolphin pin"). When you've been qualified in submarines for 50 years, you're eligible to join the U.S. Submarine Veterans Holland Club. On April 7, I joined the club. My good friend Soupy personally presented me with my Holland Club pin and certificate. It was an honor.

Another thing that might surprise folks who know me is that I like quiet times and listening to smooth jazz. I also really enjoy a daily afternoon nap.

Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at [email protected] or (352) 848-1438.

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