On Monday, the Barton County Commission honored several employees for their years of service. Road and Bridge Department Shop Foreman Gary Demel stood out from the pack.
He has been with the county for 45 years. Starting shortly after he finished high school in Great Bend, he worked his way up to the post he holds today.
“There’s a lot of stories,” Demel said. “looking back, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Most people were here to help you. You just had to ask. There are a lot good people and in the community.”
He said he gained insight and advice from the various vendors he’s worked with, as well as the “old-timers” who where in the department when he was still a young pup. “I’ve learned a lot.”
Then, there is the camaraderie with his fellow employees. “They are a great bunch of folks,” he said.
He understands the need to interject youth and new ideas into an organization. He knows it is better to work smarter than harder, and he gets the importance of balancing work with family life.
“Forty five years is a long time to be at a job that you obviously like,” said Road and Bridge Director Dale Phillips. “I would say without a doubt that Gary has made his mark for the taxpayers of Barton County and his dedication to the Road and Bridge Department.”
Phillips said he has come up through the ranks starting as an asphalt pothole filler, bridge builder, equipment operator, then to becoming shop foreman. “And today, he is considered my assistant director.”
“Gary is one of those employees that we’d really like to clone,” commission Chairperson Jennifer Schartz. “His dedication and service to the county has spanned four and a half decades. We just hope we can get a few more miles out of him.”
He started in September 1971, but was drafted into the Army in 1972 where he served in Germany and, as part of a NATO force, in Turkey until 1975. He returned to the department where he was a mechanic until 1987 when he became shop foreman.
Demel used the GI Bill to earn a two-year degree from Barton Community College, specializing in business and computer technology. He also took motor vehicle repair courses.
In addition, he and the department personnel have computerized Road and Bridge.
“Gary has the best shop in Kansas and has everything organized and he keeps operations going,” Phillips said. “Record keeping is phenomenal as he and John (Remmert) communicate to keep operations and files etc. well organized.”
He has always made himself available for emergency callouts and has helped teach others his skills related to county operations, driving and snow removal training. “Recently Gary completed Road Scholar training and should graduate this spring, thus indicating you are never too old to learn new things,” Phillips said.
Demel is also an asset to the county owned Memorial Parks working with the Register of Deeds on Memorial Park operations. “Gary has taken great pride in keeping the Memorial Parks operations well organized and precise,” Phillips said.
But, one event stands out in Phillips’ mind. “One important item for me was when Gary took over operations immediately following my personal illness three years ago. The cogs kept turning for this 45-year employee. The Road and Bridge department was in good hands during the summer of 2013.”
He was named the county’s Employee of the Quarter in July 2016 by the Employee Relations Committee.
“I turn 65 this year,” he said. But, he is making no plans to retire just yet.
“I like working. I like doing the job.”