May 9, 1926 — Dec. 13, 2018
A few weeks shy of his 16th birthday, John M. DeMike made three important decisions.
He walked out of a class at South Park High School, never to return.
He changed the spelling of his last name.
And he joined the New York Guard, enlisting for two years.
"He did say that he lied about his age," said his daughter, Deanna Van Pyrz, laughing. "But I didn't think he was that young."
John M. DeMike of Orchard Park died Dec. 13, 2018, in Garden Gate Health Care Facility in Cheektowaga. He was 92.
He was born on May 9, 1926, in Buffalo, the fourth child of John and Philomena (Caterino) Demicke and brother of Joseph, Nicholas, Petrina, Paul, Peter and Henry Demicke.
He attended South Park High School for one year, then, said Van Pyrz, "walked out of his ninth-grade classroom. Someone was talking and he got into a little trouble, and he got up, gathered up his things and walked out of class. He just left and that was that. Apparently that was when he joined the guard."
Online military records show that the young man signed up to serve in the Guard on April 14, 1942. He gave his date of birth as May 9, 1923, the right day and month but three years early. The armed services were accepting enlistees as young as 16 with parental permission, but Van Pyrz is sure her father didn't bother with that. "He didn't get anybody's permission for anything," she said.
It irked Mr. DeMike that people usually mispronounced his last name, said Van Pyrz. "So at 15 he decided he was going to spell it the way it sounded," she said. At his enlistment, he spelled his name "DeMike," a spelling he stuck with for the rest of his life.
Mr. DeMike served for two years with Co. F of the 65th Regiment, serving as a Jeep driver in Peekskill, said his daughter. Then on July 24, 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he served in the Philippines.
From his posts in the Pacific, he sent intricate cartoons to his parents, said Van Pyrz.
"He would always doodle, making little cartoons, faces, things like that, so we didn't think too much of it," she said. "But after he passed, looking through his things, we found this pile of cartoons. My Uncle Hank said that every time he wrote a letter home while he was in the Army, he would send home a comic."
Mr. DeMike's cast of comic characters included "Airhose Pete," a reference to a railroad brakeman's job. "Each comic had a little situation with Airhose Pete, who was apparently not very bright," said Van Pyrz. Another character was labeled "ORC," for the "Order of Railroad Conductors," a reference to Mr. DeMike's father, a conductor of 57 years on the Lehigh Valley line.
After his honorable discharge in 1946 as a technical sergeant, Mr. DeMike returned home and followed his father's footsteps into railroad work. Mr. DeMike worked on Erie Railroad as a fireman, then on the South Buffalo Railroad for more than 40 years, retiring as a locomotive engineer.
He met Bernadine M. Ciccia at a neighborhood dance and on June 9, 1956, they married in Annunciation Catholic Church. She ran a ballet school and was the artistic director for Royale Dance Theatre. They raised seven children together in a house on Bieler Road in Orchard Park, which Mr. DeMike built himself, his daughter said.
He tended a large garden, in which he raised prize garlic, an ingredient in his spaghetti sauce.
Mr. DeMike was a longtime member of the Veteran of Foreign Wars and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.
He played harmonica, "just a little hobby he had," his daughter said. "I think it was a popular thing on the railroad. He had half-a-dozen harmonicas, and every once in a while he would pick one up and just start playing, and it was wonderful."
Mr. DeMike made sure a fresh, crisp flag flew every day in front of his house, said his daughter. "He was very proud of his house and yard, but most of all, he had to have that flag out every day. I remember him saying, 'A lot of guys died for this flag,' " she said. When he became infirm, family members made sure that his flag continued to fly.
Besides his daughter and his wife of 62 years, Mr. DeMike is survived by four sons, John, Mark, Matthew and Joseph DeMike; two other daughters, Michele DeMike and Monica Cervetti; two brothers, Henry and Peter Demicke; and 14 grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday Dec. 20 in Our Lady of Sacred Heart Church, 3148 Abbott Road, Orchard Park.