As people across the country waited on the results of the 2020 presidential election, Sayre High School graduate Stacy Garrity was waiting for another race to be called.
Garrity, a Republican who now lives in Athens, was leading the race to become Pennsylvania’s next state treasurer, but with outstanding mail-in ballots coming in from Democratic strongholds like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, she wasn’t able to claim victory right away.
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure,” said Garrity on whether she thought she would hold on to her lead. “I kept trying to run the math by county — rural counties vs. Allegheny vs. Philadelphia vs. some of the other ones. I kept feeling like we were going to squeak it out but I didn’t know if we would be outside of the half percent for the automatic recount.”
A week after election night, Garrity was finally able to declare victory as she got a call from incumbent Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella who conceded and offered his help to the incoming treasurer.
“He was extremely gracious and nice. He said he sincerely congratulated me ... and I thanked him for his service. I told him traveling across the state I had heard a lot of good things about him, and that I know he’s done some good things and I hope to take them to the next level,” Garrity said. “He committed to help me through the transition. He couldn’t have been any more helpful and gracious, which made it much easier for me.”
Long before Garrity earned what she called “an upset” victory, the Pennsylvania Treasurer-elect was loving life as a kid growing up in the Valley.
“Some of my best memories ... when I grew up, we would just take off and play all day and then your mother, when it started getting dark, would flick the light and you would have to come back home,” Garrity recalled. “We would ride our bikes down to Island Pond and fish, catch goldfish, and you know I had three younger sisters and we were very, very close. They were basically my best friends and we just looked out for each other.”
The Garrity sisters remained close all the way through their days at Sayre High School.
“When I got to high school, we were cheerleaders together — three of us because my youngest sister is seven years younger than me — but the other three, we were all within like two-and-a-half years. We were cheerleaders for the Sayre Redskins,” Garrity said. “And my senior year we ran the two-mile relay together, and that was because I had a broken arm because I had fallen off a pyramid in the middle of a basketball game and I couldn’t play softball. We did that Garrity-Garrity-Garrity relay and that was a lot of fun.”
Garrity also recalls spending plenty of time at her family’s church.
“We grew up going to Keystone Baptist Church which was in South Waverly. I would play the piano there for Sunday School and sometimes evening church,” Garrity said.
The Garrity girls would also learn how to work hard at the South Waverly church.
“This is kind of a funny story, but sitting in church somehow my dad volunteered to take care of the grounds for a year. My sister and I looked at each other and thought ‘oh no, this means we’re going to be (put to work)’... we were mowing the lawn twice a week, and doing, not even weed-wacking, but trimming with those hand trimmers around the church. Oh yeah, it was a long year,” Garrity recalled.
Call to serve
Garrity would start her post-high school life at Lock Haven University before transferring to Bloomsburg University. However, it was a recruiter that her father brought to the Garrity home that changed her life.
“My dad had a recruiter come over to the house and I ended up going to basic training and I did two years of ROTC,” she said. “When I went to basic training it was quite a shock. I really wasn’t well prepared for it. You’re not used to having people in your face yelling and I don’t think I had shot before, it was just crazy.”
Garrity used one of her many talents to make it through basic training.
“They figured I could run, and that kind of took the pressure off. There were all these competitions for physical training and that gave me a little bit of a reprieve.”
Making it through basic training was a major accomplishment for Garrity.
“I was never so proud as the day that I graduated from basic training. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more proud of an accomplishment than that,” she said.
Garrity would rise through the ranks of the Army Reserve, including becoming an Acting Battalion Commander during her final deployment to Iraq.
“My last deployment, I was the Acting Battalion Commander at Camp Bucca in Southern Iraq. Our mission was to provide care and custody for 7,000 detainees. We also had death row and that’s like 220 detainees who had been (sentenced) to death in the Iraqi criminal court but were basically given to us to look after until they found some place to put them,” Garrity said. “And then I had the Special Housing Unit, the SHU, and had 1,200 soldiers under my command and we were the very first internment facility to have zero escape attempts and zero abuse allegations.”
Her time running Camp Bucca came on the heels of the controversy at Abu Ghraib where members of the military were charged with abusing and torturing prisoners, so all eyes were on Garrity and her team.
“I know the good Lord was really looking out for me, but we really enforced the standards and had zero tolerance for any sort of — you know we really strictly followed the Geneva Convention, we had zero tolerance for abuse because, of course, this was after Abu Ghraib and I really wanted to do an honorable job,” said Garrity, who served three deployments, including Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
All of her hard work resulted in Iraqis dubbing Garrity “the Angel of the Desert”. She was also awarded the Bronze Star twice for exceptional service and received the Legion of Merit before retiring from the Army Reserve with the rank of colonel in 2016.
Garrity believes her time in the military truly prepared her to be successful in all parts of life.
“Army values are loyalty, duty, respect, service, honor, integrity and personal courage. The military helps you with your leadership skills. It really drives into you that you always have to keep the bar of your standards high because once you lower them, you can never raise them again,” Garrity said.
Garrity believes those values will specifically help her succeed as Pennsylvania’s next treasurer.
“You need the highest of ethical standards. Just like people are expected to manage their household budgets, that’s how I view myself as being a good steward of the state’s money. My win is, I really think, Pennsylvanians wanting watchdogs in Harrisburg,” Garrity said.
After retiring from the Army Reserve, Garrity was able to focus on her work as one of two female vice presidents at Global Tungsten & Powders Corp. in Towanda.
“After I retired from the Army in June of 2016 because I hit my mandatory retirement date, for a while it was kind of nice because (before) I had basically two full-time jobs. I don’t think I saw my husband our entire married life more than maybe one weekend a month if we were lucky,” Garrity said.
It didn’t take long for Garrity to feel the need to find a new way to serve.
“It was kind of nice to be able to focus more time on my civilian job, but then I also felt like I need to serve again in some way,” she said. “And there are many different ways to serve, so if I wouldn’t have done this I would have found another way. I just feel like my life has always been about service and that’s who I am, and I’m ready to serve the people of Pennsylvania and I’m so humbled and honored to be able to do so.”
Garrity was approached to run for state treasurer — and at first, she wasn’t sure it was the right move for her.
“I was approached and at first I said ‘no.’ Running statewide you have to have so much money, and of course this was all pre-COVID. They really couldn’t find, I don’t think, anyone to run or else they were holding out hope that I would run ... I really prayed long and hard about it like ‘God you’re going to have to open up the doors if this is something you want me to do,’” Garrity recalled.
While she was trying to figure out if she should run, Garrity asked herself a simple question.
“And then I thought, if not me then who?”
Representing rural Pennsylvania
One thing that is unique when it comes to Garitty heading to Harrisburg is that she’s not from one of the state’s big population centers.
“The incumbent treasurer is a Philly guy. He was actually a Deputy Mayor under Ed Rendell back in the day, so talk about an upset,” Garrity said.
Coming from rural Pennsylvania was part of Garrity’s pitch to voters.
“I always said when I was campaigning on the trail that I think we need somebody who represents rural America, rural Pennsylvania values,” she said.
The Sayre native believes her upbringing in the Valley and the values she learned here make her qualified to do just that.
“I definitely do that because, my gosh, I’ve had a job since I was probably seven years old, whether it was shoveling people’s sidewalks, paper routes, I worked at JJ Newberry’s, so I’ mean I’ve worked my whole life and put myself through school, joined the military and working 33 years in manufacturing, I definitely think I can relate to middle America about the challenges and what working families struggle and go through,” Garrity said.
“When you look at me, it just goes to show you that with hard work you can achieve anything.”