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DEMSKE IS CONVINCED IT'S TIME TO MOVE ON CANISIUS PRESIDENT PREPARES TO STEP ASIDE, MAPS ROLE AS CHANCELLOR

The Very Rev. James M. Demske looked around his office of the past 27 years.

"Disassembling all of this is a daunting task," he said wistfully of the room full of plaques, trophies, certificates, diplomas and his cherished collection of miniature whales.

July 1, the man whose name and face have become synonymous with Canisius College will move from the presidency to the chancellorship of the institution he has led since 1966.

The Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, a fellow Jesuit, will become the 23rd president of the college the same day.

He will move immediately into the president's first-floor office in the college's Bagen Administration Building. Father Demske will occupy a temporary office on the second floor, moving later to quarters in the Wehle Technology Center on campus.

"I hate to leave the presidency," Father Demske said. "But I am convinced it is the right time for me to go -- and, as of now, I am still fully engaged as president."

He also is involved in a round of presidential goodbyes and will celebrate a special Mass of Thanksgiving Sunday in the college's Koessler Athletic Center, followed by a farewell breakfast.

The public, invited to both "Father's Day" events, is asked to call the college for reservations.

The 71-year-old president, musician and philosopher, who was about to play 18 holes of golf, said he feels fine despite a recent hip replacement and the chronic leukemia he learned he has about a year ago.

"But the health feels good right now," he said. "The leukemia is under control with medication, and the hip situation was due to arthritis and is coming right along."

When he first came to Canisius as a freshman in 1939, the Old Main building "was practically the whole college," he recalled.

Now the campus boasts the Koessler Athletic Center, Churchill Academic Tower, Demske Sports Complex, Health-Science Center and other buildings added during his presidency.

His legacy also includes dramatic growth in the college's endowment fund from less than $1 million to $27 million, and a 70 percent increase in enrollment to more than 4,700 students.

"Canisius has received many blessings throughout the 27 years I have been privileged to serve as president," he said.

Father Demske looked out his office window -- and across Main Street to the old Mount St. Joseph building at 1908 Main, now the property of the college.

"I hope to be involved in fixing up old Mount St. Joe's," he said. "It would be wonderful for classrooms and offices, and the theater there would be ideal for our Little Theater. Completion would be a couple years away."

Canisius also would like to buy the recently closed St. Vincent's Catholic Church next door and the accompanying parish rectory and House of Prayer.

"We're talking with the diocese about it," Father Demske said. "We could quite possibly buy St. Vincent's some time this summer. We don't know what we would do with the church yet. But we could use the rectory very nicely as our admissions house."

All of this will cost money, of course, and Father Demske -- who knew next to nothing about fund raising when he took over the helm of his alma mater 27 years ago -- now is a master at it.

He also has a keen sense of history, in particular the history of the college, which will mark its 125th year in 1995.

"There were many highs -- and some lows -- over the years," he mused. "During the student unrest of '69 and '70, there were some anxious moments.

"I remember sitting in this office, listening to the radio during the student riots. But this campus was lucky. There was no damage here. We never had to shut down."

Father Demske hopes the college will celebrate its 125th anniversary with great fanfare.

"But I will be working for the new president," he stressed. "Perhaps we will split some duties, but there will clearly be only one boss."

After years of so much activity, Father Demske is faced with what he calls "learning how to use leisure."

"My trombone is a great outlet," he said of the instrument he has been famous for playing at everything from parties and wedding receptions to concerts and commencements.

He hopes to play again this summer with the Abino Bay Stompers in the Buffalo Canoe Club and said he "would love to play with some community orchestras."

In the meantime, Father Demske will go on a six-month sabbatical, starting July 4. He plans to travel in Europe for several weeks, stopping in France and staying in Germany with friends from the University of Freiburg.

He then plans to visit the six other Jesuit college and university chancellors in the United States, "finding out what they do."

That project will take him to New England in September, the West Coast in October, the Midwest in November and the South in December.

"At each stage of my life, I have had faith that the unknown to come would be even better than the previous unknown," Father Demske said. "I continue to have that faith today."

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