Ray Wemple was the kind of guy who always commanded respect, but for much more than just his physical presence.
The former Schenectady police sergeant, who was indeed a big man – he was 6-foot-4 and at one time tipped the scales at over 400 pounds – was much more respected not for his size but for the way he spent his 34 years in blue, either as a patrolman, community organizer or in a number of other positions.
Wemple, who passed away on April 5, retired in 1989 at the age of 57. He was buried Monday at the Saratoga National Cemetery after a Mass and memorial service earlier in the day at St. John the Evangelist Church on Union Street in Schenectady. Along with his standard police work, Wemple was involved in community policing, and was also the individual largely responsible for Schenectady’s Neighborhood Watch Program.
Jack Falvo, who retired as assistant police chief in 2020, was a newcomer to the police force in 1980 when he first met Wemple.
“He was so big he could have been intimidating, but you respected him because of the experience he had, and the knowledge he had as a sergeant,” said Falvo. “He was one of the guys who trained me. You respected him because you liked him, and he respected you. He was the type of guy that when he spoke, people listened to him.”
A veteran of the Korean War, Wemple also spent his time with the police force on the vice squad, the crime prevention team and with community relations.
“I worked for him on community policing, and he really was highly intelligent,” Falvo said of Wemple, who lost 200 pounds a few years before he retired. “He had a memory like an elephant, and he could remember all the small details. I talked to him a couple of months ago, and he was still as sharp as a tack.”
On occasion after his retirement, Wemple wrote letters to the editor, and in the Sept. 17, 2017 issue of The Gazette, he offered his opinion on the issue of the shoulder patch design on the uniform of city policemen. Some people were saying it was racist, but Wemple argued against that reasoning, calling the patch a tribute to Lawrence the Indian, a Mohawk warrior who helped early settlers recover from the Feb. 8, 1690 Massacre.
“The patch should remain proudly displayed on the uniforms of the active members of an excellent police department whose men and women stick their necks out for us when they hit the streets each tour,” wrote Wemple. “Of course, our friend Lawrence is at the center of that patch. There is nothing racist about it.”
In his letter to the editor, Wemple mentioned that he was a 10th generation descendant of Jan Barentse Wemple, one of 13 original settlers in Schenectady in 1661.” The Wemple name has been an important part of Schenectady’s history ever since, according to local attorney John Gearing, author of “Schenectady Genesis II, The Creation of an American City from an Anglo-Dutch Town, ca. 1760-1800.”
“The family name shows up quite a bit in my index,” said Gearing. “I recall that Myndert Wemple was a blacksmith in town, and Myndert Jr. and Reyer were both wagoneers involved in the business of transporting goods and people between Albany and Schenectady. And Abraham Wemple was an assistant alderman in Schenectady’s first town government in 1765.”
Between Ray Wemple and two distant cousins, Archibald and Clark, the Wemple name also played a prominent role in Schenectady during the second half of the 20th century.
Archibald was mayor of Schenectady from 1952-1955, defeating incumbent Owen Begley. He was a long-time attorney and county judge in the city and also served as president of the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce before passing away in 1982 at the age of 77.
Archibald and his nephew, Clark, were also direct descendants of the original Wemple. Clark, also a life-long attorney in the city, was an eight-term Republican state assemblyman in office from 1966-1993. He died in 1993 at the age of 65.