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Kenny Dement, a former two-term county commissioner and a fixture of St. Mary’s County adult softball, died Wednesday at Hospice House of St. Mary’s. He was 78.

Born and raised in Callaway, Dement worked for the St. Mary’s board of education for 20 years as a bus driver instructor. After two previous unsuccessful campaigns for county commissioner, he was elected as a Republican in 2002. He served two terms, ending in 2010.

“I’m a people’s commissioner,” Dement said in 2009 when he filed for a third term as commissioner.

“He was a good guy. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt anybody,” said Thomas A. Mattingly Sr., former three-term commissioner who served on the board with Dement. “I enjoyed working with him.”

“So many people say, ‘Yep, I voted for him. I know he’s not going to hurt me,’” said Daniel H. Raley, another former three-term commissioner who served with Dement.

Dement often sat quietly at the commissioner table during discussions, listening to the other commissioners. Raley would sometimes nudge Dement for his thoughts. “A lot of the times I’d be interested in hearing what he’d have to say. Kenny was out in the public a lot. He had a lot of insight to what the people out there thought,” Raley said.

Behind the scenes, his colleagues said, Dement often worked to help individuals who had minor problems like a blocked drainage ditch, a missing stop sign on their street or a delay in getting a permit. “To have someone like that — it’s OK,” Raley said.

“Kenny was in a position to be a very powerful commissioner, but he didn’t use it effectively to go after big things,” Mattingly said, but instead he focused on helping people with their individual concerns. “He enjoyed doing that,” Mattingly said. “He enjoyed helping people with smaller problems.”

But Dement also at times was a pivotal swing vote on major issues.

“I think the legacy he’ll leave ... is he was one of the three votes to institute senior property tax relief,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R), who also served during Dement’s two terms. “Without his vote we wouldn’t have the senior property tax [cap] the county has,” he said. That split vote came in February 2004. Jarboe said the local tax cap is “the one thing that’s going to last the longest.”

“I personally considered him a friend and I’m going to miss him,” Raley said. “Whether it was on the softball field or at the commissioner table, he was a good fella.”

Dement “was a loyal servant to the people of St. Mary’s County,” said Commission President Jack Russell (D) in a statement. “I enjoyed working with him and his presence will truly be missed.”

Dement founded the St. Mary’s County Men’s Slowpitch Softball League and served as its president for more than 30 years. He was also one of the founders of the St. Mary’s County Softball Hall of Fame, located at Chancellor’s Run Regional Park in Great Mills.

Dement started the Slowpitch league in 1965 when he couldn’t get a team established in the Rocking Chair Softball League, said Frankie Merson, now vice president of the Slowpitch league.

While the two leagues merged in 1988, “I think people were calling him Mr. Softball long before that,” Merson said.

“He was very dedicated. He did a great job organizing and running it,” Merson said of Dement’s role in the Slowpitch league.

“He was very competitive, too,” he said. Dement managed at least 11 championship teams during his tenure, five of them in a row.

Dement was involved in softball from 1965 to 2008 and coached or played for teams under 12 different sponsors, said Dick LaBare, treasurer of the Slowpitch league. “Kenny was invaluable to the county softball league. He got softball going big in the county,” he said.

“He had connections with everybody — he was a great recruiter. He just seemed to put 24 hours into softball until he got sidetracked with that little job,” LaBare joked of Dement’s post as county commissioner. “He just kind of did it all. He was a great leader in the Slowpitch league. It’s all because of Kenny,” LaBare said.

For many years Dement also lit up his former home on the corner of Route 5 and Piney Point Road in Callaway for Christmas. “I was probably one of the biggest displays of light in the county,” he said in a 2007 interview, before the Christmas displays at Flat Iron Road Farm began.

After he and his wife, Shirley, moved to Tall Timbers, he said then, “I have people say you must not live in Callaway anymore” since the lights were gone. Shirley Dement, to whom he was married for more than 50 years, died in April 2009.

jbabcock@somdnews.com