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Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Great One Is Gone: Dave Titus, 1910 – 2008

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 31, 2008.)

We will do well never to forget him.

He’s now resting where he was born, almost 98 years ago.

In the cemetery at Barnes, PA lies a man who holds a historic place in the annals of Pennsylvania Game Commission history. Dave Titus stood tall from the time he entered the Game Commission’s first formal training class for game protectors in 1936, until he was its last surviving member. His 6’4” frame is only one reason.

To know Dave Titus was to recognize him as a man of character. That has been evident since at least 1930 when prominent Sheffield, PA citizen Byron Horton invited the 20-year-old Titus to work for him on the family homestead in Barnes. He quickly realized that Dave had talent that was needed far beyond the Horton estate.

Horton helped Dave discover his calling by pushing him to compete for one of 35 seats in Pennsylvania’s first training school for game protectors near Brockway. Forever after, Titus spoke of Byron Horton with deep gratitude and admiration.

The depression years were a difficult time to launch a career in game law enforcement. In a proud nation with few social welfare programs, many people felt their hard scrabble existence justified breaking game laws with impunity. They regarded game protectors as a nuisance, and often with contempt. They didn’t understand that the job included research, conservation and education.

Enforcement was by far the most difficult part of his job, not because he faced the everyday reality that someone might pull a gun on him, but because he often felt compassion for the people he arrested.

Being a friend of Dave Titus didn’t mean he would overlook your infraction. It meant that he would arrest you, and you’d still remain friends. He was always fair, and just.

Even the outlaw element grew to respect him. I suspect that today, the men Dave arrested who are still around would speak with pride about being arrested by the best. In his final years, Dave told me he could still remember every person he ever issued a citation to. His remarkable life was graced with an accurate memory.

This long and lanky man was also long on humility. He was not one to brandish his badge and take a hard-nosed authoritarian approach to every incident. He saw people as individuals and his insightful judgment was an enormous asset. When the long arm of Dave Titus reached out to collar a person, it was met with respect.

A call to military service interrupted his career from 1941 to 1946. His training with the Game Commission made him a natural fit in the military police. He modeled leadership and sacrifice, and ended up a captain.

Throughout his years of service as a game protector Dave almost completely sacrificed his own desire to hunt. “Before I went with the Game Commission, my brothers and I would get together and plan. That was as enjoyable as the day that followed. But as a game protector, if I came across a nice buck and would shoot that buck, I wouldn’t get any enjoyment out of it because I didn’t plan for that buck. And I never felt it would be right to compete with the hunters. I knew where the game was, including some big bucks, but during all the years I served I never once shot a deer, a turkey, a ringneck or a rabbit.”

In fact, Dave didn’t shoot his first turkey until the fall of 1972, soon after his retirement. Fittingly, it happened near Barnes in Warren County, the place where he grew up.

Dave Donachy, who now serves in the post Titus held, has always considered him an invaluable role model. Titus once confided in Donachy that he wished he had been a better game protector. Donachy says it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job, making greater sacrifices, or serving with deeper dedication.

Titus told me a few years ago that the training the first Game Commission school offered was solid, but added, “We were breaking new ground, and there were few role models.”

Thankfully, that’s no longer true. Dave Titus became a role model for many. He’s gone now, but we will do well never to forget him.


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