Local officials recall the life of Sheriff Tom Demko
PUNXSUTAWNEY — Thomas Andrew Demko, the former sheriff of Jefferson County, died Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, at the Punxsutawney Area Hospital at the age of 75.
Sheriff Demko was known for many areas of service throughout the county, including being a former Pennsylvania State Parole Agent and a police officer with the Punxsutawney Borough. He was elected to three terms as sheriff.
His community involvement included being a member of the Eagles, Elks, Fraternal Order of Police, Knights of Columbus (past president) and the Sheriff’s Association of PA (past president.)
Members of the community of Jefferson County shared some of their memories of Sheriff Demko.
“He was always willing to talk, teach and give his opinion. He was very committed to what he believed in,” said Judge John Foradora, who first met Demko when the former sheriff was a police sergeant with the Punxsutawney Borough. Demko later provided security for the first six years of Foradora’s time as judge.
Foradora said Sheriff Demko always did his best in maintaining security at the courthouse and keeping an eye on the budget and was “a great mentor in the law and politically.”
Outgoing Brookville Borough Police Chief Ken Dworek also had a few words to offer on Demko’s life and service.
“Tom Demko was a seasoned sheriff and law enforcement official when I became a young chief,” he said. “I soon learned of his dedication, compassion, support and, most of all, loyalty to other law enforcement officers and agencies. It wasn’t soon after I started that I began to rely on Tom for his support and loyalty when things were unsettled and I needed a friend. I will miss Tom as a friend, and my sympathy to his equally supportive wife, Arletta, and family.”
Demko served as a Punxsutawney Borough Police officer before retiring.
Tom Fedigan, current Punxsutawney Borough Police chief, said that Demko was on the force when he first joined.
“Tom was the sergeant when I was hired as a patrolman at the Punxsutawney Borough Police Department 22 years ago,” Fedigan said, adding that Demko was his training officer.
“I credit him for providing me with a solid foundation
and the law enforcement knowledge I possess today,” Fedigan said. “He was well respected throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by his colleagues and peers.”
Fedigan said one would have been hard pressed to find anyone in law enforcement with the knowledge, background and credentials that Demko had.
“When Tom would stop by to visit me at the police station, I knew at least the next hour or two would be filled with Tom’s words of wisdom and stories about his adventures in law enforcement,” Fedigan said.
Fedigan also said that for Demko, family was a priority.
“He always talked about his wife, Arletta, and boys Tim and Joe,” Fedigan said, adding that Demko adored his family, and the two never had a conversation without mention of them.
Fedigan said the focus on family carried over into his own service to the force.
“Along with the knowledge I gained about law enforcement, he, most importantly, instilled in me the lesson to always make both personal and professional decisions in the best interest of my family,” Fedigan said. “He will be missed for his friendship and guidance.”
Carl Gotwald Sr., Jefferson County sheriff, served under Demko for many years before he became the sheriff.
He said he first served under Sheriff Harry “Ed” Dunkle before Demko was elected.
“I started part-time under Ed in 1992 and became full-time in 1994, and Tom was elected sheriff in 1996.”
Gotwald himself was elected sheriff and began to serve his first term in 2008.
“When Tom came into office, he upgraded the department and switched their vehicles to Ford Crown Vics, which are recognized as police vehicles,” he said. “As we replaced each car, they were replaced with Crown Victorias; and we changed our uniforms also.”
Gotwald said that Demko started the upgrade, and it just continued on.
“The choices he had made were good choices, and I’ve continued them on today,” Gotwald said. “He had a lot of knowledge and background prior to ever becoming sheriff.
“Being knowledgeable about law enforcement is good for the person coming into office to know. Someone who is elected and is not knowledgeable can take over and cause a lot of turmoil.”
Gotwald said Demko had an abundance of ideas to better the department, and he did his best to see them enacted.
“When he came into the office, he told us that he was going to upgrade the office, and he did do that,” Gotwald said. “He helped us in many other ways with our jobs and our training.”
Gotwald said that Demko took on the security at the DuBois Regional Airport following the 9/11 attacks — an initiative that Gotwald said is ongoing.
“He initiated the security at the front of the courthouse during his last one or two years in office,” Gotwald added.
“He was always there for the deputies in the office and took care of us,” Gotwald said.
Jeff Pisarcik, Jefferson County commissioner, said he and Tom would collaborate many times, since they were the only Democrats in county government, along with Brenda Scarantine.
“When I first met Tom, when I first was running for commissioner, he befriended me and took me under his wing,” Pisarcik said, adding that they developed a bond over the years. “I respected Tom for what he stood for as a family man, and I respected him for that and his faith. When you’re new in county government and politics, there’s a lot of unknowns.”
He said that, oftentimes, he and Demko would disagree on a certain topic.
“We realized that it was OK to disagree with each other,” Pisarcik said. “Tom knew what he wanted and would fight until he got what he was after.”
Pisarcik said that Demko transformed the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department into a more professional department.
“Tom wanted everyone to know when the sheriff was in town, and you have to respect him for that,” Pisarcik said.
Pisarcik added that he hadn’t had much contact with Demko since he had moved away.
“In the last couple of weeks, after he returned to the area, I got to see him two or three times,” he said. “It was nice to see him; he will be truly missed by me, not only personally, but as a public servant of the county who served in the armed forces as well.
“I was very proud to have known him in a personal way,” Pisarcik concluded.
Funeral arrangements for Demko are under the direction of Shumaker Funeral Home in Punxsutawney, and online condolences may be made at www.shumakerfh.com.
This article was compiled by Jefferson County Neighbors reporters Larry McGuire and Matthew Triponey.