Father and son faced each other, badge to badge, counting on their fingers.
“Do we have five still active?” asked Thomas J. Nestel III, in a dark blue fitted suit adorned with a scout’s worth of medals. “There’s Uncle Kev.”
“Uh, huh,” said Thomas D. Nestel, in freshly pressed and stripeless powder blues.
Simultaneously: “Uncle Billy.”
“And now,” Thomas III said, “you.”
Thomas D. Nestel, 27, graduated Friday morning from the Philadelphia Police Academy, a fifth-generation legacy on a force cluttered with cousins and uncles. He accepted his diploma in front of his father, chief of the SEPTA Transit Police Department, who sat with the dignitaries on the dais at Temple University’s Performing Arts Center.
The latest Nestel to serve graduated along with 94 cadets in the academy’s 382nd class, survivors of a nine-month course in faceless danger and senseless violence.
Commissioner Richard Ross opened his remarks by thanking the class’s family and friends for their support, and then digressed. There was another Nestel to acknowledge.
“Would retired Deputy Commissioner Thomas J. Nestel please stand? Where are you?”
That’s Thomas J. Nestel Jr., 77, the father of the SEPTA police chief and grandfather of the newly minted officer. The elder Nestel rose from his seat on the balcony.
“He served over 43 years with us, and it is a particularly auspicious occasion for him because his son Chief Nestel is on the stage, and his grandson is over there, so give him a hand,” Ross said.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Thomas III, 55, found his son on the arts center floor, and they embraced.
“It’s wild, you know, to see your son in the recruits,” said the father, his reddening eyes shielded by wire-framed glasses. “I love going to the academy graduations. It’s my favorite event. It’s the day where everybody is happy and their accomplishments are celebrated.”
His eyes widened. “But this time,” he said, “this time, my son was in the group.”
And his son is carrying on the family business.
It started with the SEPTA chief’s great-grandfather. It grew with the addition of his grandfather.
His father joined the force, and then Chief Nestel graduated from the academy, in 1986. With his son’s commencement, that means a family member has served the Philadelphia police since 1902.
“At one point,” Nestel III added, “there were 12 of us on the force.”
Father and son stood among the now-uneven rows of folding chairs, watching the families of other recruits push toward the exits, cellphone cameras flashing.
Two cousins in blue stopped by to shake the newest Officer Nestel’s hand. The rest of the family was waiting outside, so the whole family decided to gather inside for a photo.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Thomas III said.
He pointed to the silver gleaming on his son’s chest, No. 5382.
Officer Thomas D. Nestel said, “I’m wearing my grandfather’s badge.”