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Minneapolis park police officer Jeff Kirby of Inver Grove Heights, 32, worked and played in Twin Cities parks since he was a child, and he wanted to be a police officer for about as long as his friends and family can remember.

When he was a kid, he dreamed of having a Harley motorcycle, and he got that wish, too.

The motorcycle officer, who once coached special-needs children, died of leukemia Tuesday in Minneapolis.

"He always wanted to be a cop," said his father, Tom, of Burnsville. "He was kind of forceful -- he was no wimp."

Jeff Kirby grew up in south Minneapolis, and at the age of 12 started scooping ice cream for folks in Minnehaha and Lake Nokomis parks. As a teenager, he worked the counter at the Fort Snelling Golf Club. He later worked in safety at the parks and got a kick out of driving the Zamboni at Parade Athletic Field's ice rink.

In 1995, Kirby graduated from high school from Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, where he was a sports reporter on the school newspaper. After graduating in 2001 with an associate degree in criminal justice from Normandale Community College in Bloomington, he joined the Minneapolis park police as a police agent, becoming a sworn officer in 2005.

"He loved being a motor [motorcycle] officer," said Lyn Unke, a motor officer with the Minneapolis park police. "He had a lighthearted spirit and was very courageous" in his personal struggle with leukemia, diagnosed in January.

His wife, Millie, of Inver Grove Heights recalled that he once returned home from the job after arresting a gang member.

"He was outnumbered by gang members, and everything went smoothly," said his wife. "Later when transporting the guy, he said: 'I am just curious. You could have overtaken me. Why didn't you?' And the gang member told him: 'Because you treated me with respect.'"

"He was just the most kind man," his wife said of Kirby. "He just loved the parks."

When he was a youngster, Kirby worked on projects to help homeless people.

In his teenage years, he served on missions in Chicago and New Orleans for his boyhood church, Asbury United Methodist, in Minneapolis. He coached youth sports, and when he was an adult he coached Special Olympics athletes. He was a fundraiser for the needy.

He was a bowler with about a 190 average, and with his brother Troy of Minneapolis, he took trips following the Twins to away games.

The avid sports fan especially liked being assigned to motorcycle escort duty for visiting NFL teams.

In addition to his wife, father and brother, he is survived by his mother, Connie, of Minneapolis; brothers Todd of Maplewood, Patrick of Duluth, Larry of San Diego, and Mitchell of Tucson, Ariz., and a sister, Melissa, of Hudson, Wis.

Services have been held.