Skokie Police volunteer, computer guru honored with state award
Skokie Police volunteer Tom Dornback (center) was one of 16 honorees in the state to win a TRIAD Volunteer Award this year. He appears here with Officer Tammy Jacobsen and Sgt. David Pawlak. | Photo courtesy of the Skokie Police Department
Updated: September 24, 2012 8:50AM
SKOKIE — Sometimes a tap on the shoulder can change your life.
If you need further proof, just ask longtime Skokie resident Tom Dornback, who recently received a state award for his volunteer work at the Skokie Police Department.
“I was tapped on the shoulder by a lady when I was working for a company and was told we were getting something called a computer and would I like to get involved in that,” Dornback said. “That lady changed my life. And all she did was tap me on the shoulder.”
This was long before Windows and Macs, desktop computers and certainly the mobile computing devices that have become so ubiquitous today. Dornback may not have realized it at the time — who did in 1956 or 1957 — but he was soon to join the ground floor of technology that would change the way we live and work.
The IBM 602 was one of the earliest large computers. First introduced in 1946, it was mostly an electromechanical calculator capable of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It was programmed using a plugboard control panel and was IBM’s first machine that did division.
Dornback, 76, has never been far removed from computing technology since working on that system. One of three companies he started upon retiring about 12 years ago built laptop computers for Gateway, portable machines that reflect the evolution from that oversized IBM 602.
In the military, he also worked with computers, but don’t ask him to shed much light on his duties there.
“Let’s just say I did intelligence,” he said. Pressed more, Dornback said he was told he could never divulge details of his work in the military, “even if it was the Civil War.”
That last part was a joke, of course, but his fascination with computers and even law enforcement, which he says was tangentially part of his military duties, made later volunteer work at the Skokie Police Department a natural progression.
He first went through Skokie’s Citizen’s Police Academy a few years ago, which led him to volunteering at the department five days a week. He’s been like clockwork there for nearly two years now, Officer Tammy Jacobsen said.
Dornback works in records and crime prevention, inputting important data into the system to make sure records are properly kept.
“It’s very important work,” Jacobsen said of the volunteer’s contributions. “This is the way we keep track of officers’ backgrounds — what they know and the training that they have had. It’s also a legal document.”
Jacobsen nominated Dornback for the Triad Volunteer Award. The department can nominate one volunteer every year and Dornback became one of 16 in Illinois to win. He was honored at a luncheon.
“Tom has generously and selflessly volunteered his time ... and has worked tirelessly at countless community events assisting the Skokie Police Department in many ways including working in the Records Unit and updating police training records,” Jacobsen wrote in her application letter. “When not assisting at community events, Tom can often be found using his expertise to help implement the new Skokie Police Department computer system.”
This is just one of the ways he keeps busy. Dornback is not one to take retirement lying down.
A member of the village’s Public Safety Commission, he also serves as an active Neighborhood Block Watch Captain and has another hobby that is pretty special, too. Dornback trains service dogs that eventually will be used by physically disabled people to assist them in day-to-day living.
He raises the dogs who are from 8 weeks to 18 months old in his Skokie home where he lives with his wife and her two cats. He has two grown children who live away.
“When I leave here and Tammy lets me go home,” he said, “that’s what I do.”
Some of his temporary canine friends even make visits to the Skokie Police Department.
Everyone, he says, asks him this common question: Isn’t it hard to let go of these dogs after becoming attached?
“I have one going back in about six weeks that I’ve had for a long time,” he said. “But when you see a dog being turned over to a disabled person, you know why you’re doing it and how important it is.”
Jacobsen calls volunteers like Dornback “a big added bonus” to the department’s operations. She says he’s more than deserving of the Triad honor.
Dornback though says he’s not at the Skokie Police Department every day because of awards.
“I’m just here to do the work, not to get awards,” he said with the quiet modesty that reflects his character. “But it did make me feel very good.”