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George Demko, an internationally renowned geographer, academic, and PhD scholar has died at age 81 of natural causes.

Demko came from humble origins growing up with four siblings in the steel mining town of Catasauqua, PA. He served his country in the Marine Corps in the Korean War and earned a Purple Heart for his bravery. When he returned from Korea, he used the GI Bill to go to college and received his Bachelor’s Degree from West Chester State Teachers College. It was there he met his wife Jeanette Small. Demko was later inducted into the West Chester Athletics Hall of Fame for excellence in football.

Demko learned that education could radically alter the course of one’s life and he continued on to earn a PhD in Geography from Penn State University in 1964. While pursuing his PhD, he was accepted into a special International Exchange Program to study for a year at Moscow State University. Dr. and Mrs. Demko lived in the Soviet Union during some of the most intense days of the Cold War, including during the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Upon return from completing his studies overseas, he received a professional position in the geography department of Ohio State University. He taught undergraduate and graduate students for 18 years at OSU with brief teaching assignments at both the University of Hawaii and Hong Kong University. He also worked on projects for NASA, the World Bank and United Nations in population and demographic studies of less developed nations.

In the 1980s, he left academia for public service at the National Science Foundation and Federal Government in Washington, DC. He served as the Geographer of the United States in the Department of State, and helped develop the office’s integral cross-departmental mission. He also served as the President of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) from 1986-1987.

Demko returned to academia in 1989 as Director of the Rockefeller Center for Social Sciences at Dartmouth College and as professor of Geography. He launched the Prague Foreign Study Program, a joint program between Dartmouth and Charles University. He received the Gold Medal of Charles University for a lifetime of contributions to geographical knowledge and the promotion of international intellectual cooperation.

Demko was a Fellow of the American Geographical Society, a contributor to the Geographical Review and FOCUS on Geography magazine, and a member of the Board of Editors of FOCUS on Geography. He published many books and articles over a prolific lifetime of research. He was also a contributor to the mystery writing genre and published articles on mysterynet.com and hosted a blog Landscapes of Crime.

Over his lifetime in academia, his greatest achievement was the mentoring and influencing of thousands of students who carry his legacy with them today.

He is survived by his wife and lifelong cheerleader, Jeanette Demko, two daughters, Megan and Kerstin, and five grandsons.

Services will take place on November 22 at The Church of Saint Kevin, 200 West Sproul Road, Springfield, PA. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. and a mass will be held at 11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to be made to the American Stroke Foundation in honor of George Demko.