Fallen Officers Memorial honors Earl DeMarse
By KELSIE THOMPSON
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — Ron DeMarse remembers his dad, Earl, as a quiet man.
“He was not a very outgoing person — he was soft-spoken,” DeMarse said. “He loved to hunt and fish, and he loved to play cribbage with his buds that worked with him.”
Earl’s life was tragically cut short in 1973 when he was killed while on duty as a corrections officer at the Marquette Branch Prison. He was 55, and about one year away from retirement.
“I think about and miss my dad every day,” DeMarse said. “You can’t help but wonder all the memories that could have been.”
While the pain of DeMarse’s loss is still felt, he said he’s glad that his father has finally received a proper recognition for his service and his sacrifice.
The Associated Press reported more than 200 people gathered outside the Michigan Corrections Organization headquarters in Lansing May 7 for the unveiling of the Fallen Officers Memorial.
The black stone marker bears the names of four Michigan corrections officers who were killed by inmates, honoring their lives and dedication to the job.
Earl DeMarse is listed, along with George Haight, who was poisoned with cyanide in 1893; Josephine McCallum, who was raped and strangled in 1987 and Jack Budd, who was stabbed to death in 1987.
“I’m glad they’re finally getting credit for the hazardous environment they work in every day,” Ron DeMarse said. “I got to know many, many people in the Department of Corrections, and it’s a thankless job. Prison guards are unarmed, and are often outnumbered (by inmates) 20 to 1. It’s extremely dangerous.”
DeMarse recalls his dad, a veteran corrections officer of more than 30 years who had also served in World War II, didn’t talk often of his work.
“I knew he worked at the prison, but when my dad came home, he wouldn’t discuss anything about the job,” he said. “Even as I got older and asked questions, he would give me the short version and said ‘that’s all you need to know.'”
DeMarse was just 19 years old when he received the news that his father had been seriously injured on the job.
“Unfortunately, it’s permanently etched into my memory,” DeMarse said, adding that he seldomly talks about that Sept. 25 morning because it’s just too difficult. “I was woken up at 6 a.m. by a call from the Marquette General ER, and was told I had to get there as quickly as I could because my dad had been injured at the prison. I had to tell my mom and pick her up, and by the time we got there, they had pronounced him. We didn’t get to talk to him or anything.”
Apparently, DeMarse said, his dad was assigned to the prison’s auditorium that day, which was a single-guard station. Richard Goodard — an inmate serving for felonious assault, arson, car theft and burglary, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections — was assigned to clean that space. He assaulted DeMarse, stabbing him multiple times.
“I didn’t want to hear the details after that,” DeMarse said.
Goodard received a mandatory life sentence, and is still serving in a prison downstate. At the time of his father’s death, DeMarse said their relationship was stronger than ever.
“We were looking at buying a camp together, and he bought an old fishing boat we were going to retore,” he said. “I’d gone through my turbulent teenage years, and we were finally getting back to being father and son. We had great plans that were cut short, unfortunately.”
Following Earl’s death, DeMarse graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in industrial arts. He owned Altmann Computers in Marquette, but didn’t feel challenged in his role.
“As bizarre as it might sound, I thought I might like to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” he said, adding that his maternal grandfather also worked as a prison guard.
So he took a job as a fire inspector with the Michigan Department of Corrections, where he worked for several years. He said he was fortunate in his position, as he wasn’t exposed directly to inmates.
Now, he serves as the fire chief of the Marquette Township Fire Department.
It was a continuing education/licensing course necessary for his current job that kept him from attending the dedication May 7, DeMarse said, but he plans to visit it sometime this summer.
Michigan Corrections Director Heidi Washington told the Lansing State Journal that the memorial honors those who have been killed, but also celebrates those still working.
“I think it is also important that we continue to highlight the stress we all face in the job and to recognize it and to offer solutions and support for the men and women who work inside of our institutions,” Washington said.
“My dad lived a good life up until his death,” DeMarse said. “I’m happy he’s been given credit for his years of service.”
Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is email@example.com.