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Jagow, stepping down as county clerk, reflects on career

LOCKPORT – “It’s gone by like a blur,” said Niagara County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow, whose nearly half-century career has ranged from serving as a Lutheran pastor to removing bodies after the Attica prison uprising.

He announced earlier this month that he will not run for a sixth term as Niagara County clerk. The Republican Party – whose banner he carried in six elections, one for sheriff and five for clerk – has endorsed Wilson Supervisor Joseph A. Jastrzemski to succeed him.

Jagow, 71, made the announcement through a letter to the employees of the clerk’s office, which he has led for 20 years.

“It’s time to step aside. This wasn’t a deep, dark secret. It’s time to up the bar for someone else coming in,” said Jagow, a Town of Lockport resident.

He retired two years ago from Concordia Evangelical Lutheran Church in Newfane, where he had been the part-time pastor for 30 years. “It was time to step aside and let someone else do it, and that’s the way I feel about this,” Jagow said in an interview.

Jagow had both knees replaced a couple of years ago, but he said his health had nothing to do with his decision. “I feel like I’m in my 20s,” he said.

Jagow was in and out of the Sheriff’s Department for nearly 30 years, first joining the ranks in 1966 while he was a college student.

He joined full-time in 1969 as a patrol deputy, and two years later, was sent to Attica as part of a mutual aid detachment ordered by Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller after inmates took control of part of the prison and took hostages. Forty-three people died, including 33 prisoners, with most of the deaths occurring when state troopers stormed the prison.

Jagow and three other officers were sent to guard the laundry while the shooting was still going on elsewhere in the prison.

“I was part of the tactical force,” Jagow recalled. “After the State Police took it over, we had to go in and take out the hostages … It was hard to tell who was an inmate and who was a hostage.”

Meanwhile, Jagow, who had been ordained a minister in 1970, become director of community services for the Sheriff’s Department. He left for a time to become full-time pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Lockport, but Sheriff Anthony Villella called him back to work on juvenile matters.

He was chief of the juvenile division when he ran for sheriff in 1993. Although he lost, Jagow made a good impression on GOP powers that be.

In 1995, after County Clerk George D. Maziarz was elected to the State Senate, Gov. George E. Pataki appointed Jagow to finish Maziarz’s term as clerk. Jagow, who had declined a Republican offer to run for the Assembly, won an election for a full four-year term as clerk that November and was re-elected in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011.

During his time as clerk, the county constructed a new records storage building in Lockport and later decided to move many of its records to leased space in Newfane. The county won state records management awards for its work.

Jagow presided over the relocation of county motor vehicle offices in Lockport and Niagara Falls, twice in the latter case. At one point, Jagow proposed consolidating the three DMV offices, but the County Legislature disagreed.

He also was a major player in an unsuccessful battle with Albany over whether counties should keep any share of auto registration fees the counties often collect. “I was naive enough to believe in the beginning that we were partners with the state in motor vehicles. That’s not the case,” he said.

During Jagow’s tenure, the Veterans Service Agency and the County Historian’s Office were made part of the clerk’s office. The county also was one of the first to switch to electronic document filing and online records searches, a process that took more than seven years.

“That was one of the reasons I ran last time. We weren’t done yet,” Jagow said.

Jagow also developed the “Thank-a-Vet” program, which offered retail discount coupons to veterans who filed their discharge papers with the county.

Jagow said he wrote a letter to the workers because none of the office’s accomplishments could have happened without them. He especially saluted his deputy clerk, Wendy J. Roberson, who has been with him for all 20 years.

“We’ve been together as county clerk and deputy longer than some marriages have lasted,” Jagow said. “There’s a level of trust there.”