Kenneth Bettenhauser believed in public service.
He served in Vietnam and won the Purple Heart. He served on the New York City and Suffolk County police departments for 32 years. And he served the youth in Suffolk County through his work with the Police Athletic League.
“This was a man of dignity, who always put his family first,” said longtime friend Jack Vivonetto of Manorville. “But he had a second family also, a PAL family, where hundreds of kids, mostly from Wyandanch, North Babylon and Amityville benefited from this man’s generosity. He knew the significance of sports and community and having trust in the police. And everyone loved him.”
Bettenhauser died at his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Feb. 5. He was 72.
“He was the PAL cop who gave everyone free blue and white basketballs,” said Rich Wrase, a Los Angeles Lakers scout who coached PAL basketball and coordinated camps for years with Bettenhauser. “He especially liked the kids that needed that extra attention. He went way beyond the call of duty, a true gentleman. I worked for him for about 18 years, running summer camps at Eastport and Westhampton high schools. And we coached the travel PAL basketball teams and took them all over the country.”
Born in Queens, Bettenhauser was an outstanding basketball player at John Adams High School. The 1961 graduate holds the school record of 71 points in a game, Wrase said.
Bettenhauser joined the Air Force in 1963 and was deployed to Vietnam in 1964. His son, Thomas Bettenhaus, said Ken, a military policeman, spent many days and nights in the jungle, once having to endure 40 days and nights of consistent rain.
“He was so proud to serve his country and then the people of Suffolk County,” Thomas Bettenhaus said. “He was a great role model in every regard.”
Bettenhauser spent his summers at a small home built by his father on the shore of Lake Panamoka in the woods of the Ridge community, 65 miles east of Queens. He met his wife Florence of 48 years on that lake, Thomas said.
Bettenhauser served on the NYPD, patrolling the Spanish Harlem district and the South Bronx near Yankee Stadium before moving his family to Wading River in 1972. His family grew quickly with children Thomas, Cheryl Mustacchio of Wading River, Kenneth of Sudbury, Massachusetts, and Keri of Quincy, Massachusetts.
“My dad worked several jobs and he and my Mom made us a wonderful childhood,” said his son, Kenneth. “We had modest family vacations with camping, fishing, skimming rocks and all the little fun things we could do. Our neighborhood was close knit with block parties, barbecues, pool parties and Friday night poker games for the adults. My father built the foundation of what family living in a community should be like.”
After 32 years on police forces, he retired in 2000 and moved to Myrtle Beach.
Besides his children, he is survived by his wife, Florence, sister Diane King of Medford, and seven grandchildren.
Internment will be 1 p.m. March 9 at Calverton National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that all donations be made to the S.C.P.A.L. in care of the PAL Rangers baseball program at P.O. Box 546, Holbrook, N.Y., 11741.