Barry Bloss knows how he'll be spending his free time when he steps down as York County's coroner in early January after 16 years on the job.

"I intend on volunteering more than anything else," he said.

Bloss' plan is no surprise to friends, family and colleagues. The 73-year-old West Manchester Township resident has devoted nearly a half-century of his life to public service.

"He cares about the community -- he cares about people," said his son, Springettsbury-area District Judge Barry Bloss Jr. "That's the type of person he is."

"He has dedicated his whole life to public service," York County Commissioner Chris Reilly said.

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Started as banker: Raised on East Locust Street in York City, Bloss graduated from William Penn Senior High School in 1958 and spent the next seven years, improbable as it now seems, as a banker who rose to the level of assistant manager.

The job paid less than $100 a week, he said. So after friend and bank co-worker Bill Hose became a York City police officer and encouraged Bloss to do the same, Bloss made his career move in 1965.

He still made less than $100 a week to start, but said at least there was room for advancement.

He spent 26 years on the force, the last 22 of them as a detective.

York County Common Pleas Judge John W. Thompson Jr. said he and Bloss worked cold cases together. Before becoming judge, Thompson was a county prosecutor.

'Bulldog': The judge said Bloss' law-enforcement career can be summed up briefly: "Dedication, attention to detail and the attitude of a bulldog."

Barry Bloss Jr. followed in his father's footsteps and became a city cop in 1988, meaning his lifelong role model became his co-worker for three years.

While attending a continuing-education police class, the younger Bloss met an FBI agent who knew his father.

"He said, 'If you're half the man your dad is, you'll be double the man I've ever worked with,'" the younger Bloss recalled. "That's a hell of a compliment. So I took that to heart."

After retiring in 1991, the elder Bloss spent two years as a deputy for Hose, who by then was sheriff of York County, before eventually being elected county coroner. He took office in 1998, replacing Kathryn Fourhman, who held the position for 24 years.

"Between coroner work and police work ... I could write a book," he said.

Dealing with grief: Bloss said the hardest part of the job isn't seeing death.

"It's really notification of next of kin," he said. "I can remember many times ... trying to keep control of (my) emotions. Your heart just feels so much for these people."

The younger Bloss said sometimes he can't believe his father wanted to be coroner, "knowing his heart."

Claude Stabley, York County's chief deputy coroner, described his boss as extremely supportive and "wonderful" to work for.

"He's provided a lot of guidance, but still given us a lot of autonomy to function and do our job," Stabley said.

Credits staff: Bloss said it's been his staff members who have kept the office running efficiently -- Stabley, confidential secretary Vivian Howell and deputy coroners Steve Cosey and Jeffri Goodfellow. All have been with Bloss for his entire 16-year run. Cosey is Bloss' brother-in-law.

"I've got the best staff you could ever have," he said at his Dec. 12 surprise retirement party. He struggled to control his emotions as he thanked them.

Bloss was diagnosed with a pancreas-related kind of cancer in January 2010. His surgery, chemotherapy and radiation kept him out of the office for about 15 months, he said, but he wasn't worried.

"They could handle the office without me," he said. Bloss is now cancer-free.

Making a difference: Bloss said during his time as coroner, he's done what he can to reduce preventable deaths by educating the public about dangers such as accidental falls by the elderly, traffic deaths involving alcohol or lack of seat belts, and infant deaths caused by sleeping parents rolling onto them in bed.

"I'd like to (believe) I made a difference in York County," he said.

Many years ago, Bloss began working with a program that handed out free cribs to parents who couldn't afford them. The program had nowhere to store the cribs, Bloss said, so Bloss stored them in his office.

"We probably gave out hundreds of them," he said. "It has cut down on the number of 'rollover deaths' of infants."

Public outreach: Bloss said he has spoken to many groups and individuals about how to prevent home falls, which the elderly are susceptible to and which can lead to their death.

He has spoken to people, including teens, about the dangers of drunken driving and not wearing seat belts. He's spoken about teen suicide rates. And he's spoken publicly about certain roads that have a high incidence of fatal crashes.

He's even spoken to at-risk youths about how they can succeed in life.

Bloss said he joined numerous committees and groups that focus on reducing unnecessary deaths, and plans to stay active in at least a few of them.

"I want to do something with (the rest of) my life," he said, not merely sit around.

Church man: Bloss said he'll remain an active member of Living Word Community Church in York Township. He said his faith has helped him cope with his work.

The Rev. Steve Almquist, pastor of the church, said Bloss was part of Living Word's men's study group and security team, serves as a usher and has hosted water baptisms in his yard for nearly a decade.

"He has lived out his faith in his everyday life," Almquist said. "He's a real solid guy, and he has a real heart for people."

Staying put: Although Bloss and wife Lola have a place in Florida, Bloss said they intend to stay in York County most of the time, not only for Bloss' volunteer work but also because their family is here.

Bloss has four children and eight grandchildren who range from 7 months to 25 years old. Soon, he will become a great-grandfather for the first time.

The organizations Bloss holds membership or officer positions in include the Pennsylvania Coroners Association, International Homicide Investigators Association, International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, York County Child Death Review Board, York County Domestic Violence Death Review Board and the York Area Council for Traffic Safety.

-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.