Starlee Dempsey with her children

Starlee Dempsey (second from left) poses with her children (from left) Jim Dempsey, Sheila Hawkins and George Dempsey.

Starlee Dempsey was a fixture in the community for many years. Despite her death this past December, her business lives on as do the memories of her impact on others.

Lori Rotsell said Starlee Dempsey loved cats and cared for strays, both human and feline. She refers to herself as Starlee’s first stray cat, since she and her husband George cared for, sheltered and raised Rotsell for many years after her parents divorced.

“She would find people who were down on their luck and find ways to hire them — feeding her cats, running errands,” said Rotsell. “She would not give out money; you had to work for it.”

When Starlee’s health began to fail, her children reached out to Rotsell and asked her to return to Wellsboro to help their mother with Dempsey & Associates, which offers financial and tax services.

Coincidentally, Rotsell’s life mirrored her mentor’s. Starlee was also adopted. She and her brother, Donnie, were adopted by Harold and Mary Evans, the only two out of the 180 children fostered by the couple.

On the outside, Starlee could be brusque, abrupt and temperamental. That, said Rotsell, sometimes obscured the person who cared about her community, her employees, customers and friends.

Starlee’s son, George Dempsey, said his parents first opened a Chevron gas station and garage in 1972. His mother would drive the wrecker to calls and his father serviced the borough and fire department vehicles.

Starlee took on the bookkeeping responsibilities there, which led into tax preparation and becoming part of the H&R Block franchise.

He helped her open Dempsey & Associates, added the TaxWise software and continue serving her clients, which numbered 600 last year.

“She poured her heart and soul into the business,” said Dempsey. “Business wasn’t about money for her; it was about taking care of her friends and customers.”

His parents were deeply involved in many aspects of the community, said Dempsey. When their children were on the swim team, they’d load swimmers into a Winnebago motor home and transport them to away meets.

They sheltered other children through the years and even, for a time, took in a family whose home burned.

“She was an old-time Tioga County girl. She raised on side where everybody took care of everybody else. If you had to open your home, you open your home,” said Dempsey.

That care and concern continued into her business life as well, said her son. She held the power of attorney for several clients.

“She was a constant force in Wellsboro. She was friends with every client. They all seemed to have had a personal relationship with her,” Rotsell said.

Starlee was blunt and sometimes appeared hard-edged, but that was just the outside, said Rotsell. She recalled how, after high school graduation, Starlee said she should consider enlisting since she had no money for college. That led to a 30-year career in civil service and training to take on Dempsey & Associates.

Dempsey and his wife will continue to mentor Rotsell during the transition and eventually hope to have her take over.

“I made her a promise that I would keep the business open, take care of her (employees) and all her friends, which meant all her customers,” said Rotsell. “She told me, ‘Don’t let anybody down.’”

Dempsey & Associates is open for business. For more information, call 570-723-8713 or stop in the office at 17 Crafton St., Wellsboro.