State senator from Lebanon County dies from brain cancer at age 49

  • Jan Murphy/PennLive

(Harrisburg) — Pennsylvania Sen. Dave Arnold died Sunday at home with his wife and daughter by his side, ending a 15-month battle with brain cancer.

Arnold was 49 years old. He took the oath of office last January to represent the 48th senatorial district, which covers all of Lebanon County and parts of Dauphin and York counties. At the time, he said he considered it an honor to be given the opportunity to “work for the public and to do things for the benefit of the public.”

But as the past year went on, the Lebanon County Republican struggled to do that work while undergoing treatment for his cancer.

Arnold served for 14 years as Lebanon County District Attorney prior to seeking the Senate seat. He was elected to the legislative role on Jan. 14 in a special election to fill an open seat vacated by Mike Folmer.

Folmer was sentenced in July to up to two years in prison after state investigators found child pornography on his personal cellphone.

In deciding to run for the seat tarnished by Folmer’s crimes, Arnold said, “It’s critical we send someone to Harrisburg who can recover from that.”

Last year, the Senate passed legislation he sponsored to increase penalties for child pornography offenses, but the bill failed to see action in the House before the end of the 2019-20 legislative session. Arnold, along with Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne County, announced last week their intention to re-introduce the bill.

Days before Arnold was selected by party officials to be their nominee for the Senate seat in October 2019, he began experiencing headaches following a playful head butt with his dog.That sent him to the doctor who discovered a malignant brain tumor. Arnold underwent an operation to remove it. In early 2020, he began his chemotherapy treatments.

Last June on the Senate floor, he shared in an emotional speech how his days revolved around those difficult treatments while offering a resolution recognizing cancer survivors. He noted the disease claims 600,000 Americans’ lives annually. As for the hundreds of thousands of cancer survivors, he called them his heroes.

“To all survivors, I just want to say thank you,” he said during that speech. “You give those of us who are afflicted the strength to keep fighting on themselves. Some of us will win the battle. Sadly, many of us won’t. But all are heroes the same to me. I pray for all of you.”

Arnold shared at that time he was a month away from completing his second cycle of chemotherapy treatments. He acknowledged the treatments zapped his energy but with the help of his wife Alicia and 14-year-old daughter Reese, friends and coworkers, he was able to manage the effects of the treatment while carrying out his senatorial duties.

“I haven’t missed any work or anything like that,” Arnold said at the time. “I get tired more than I care to. But that just is what it is and you try your best to work through it and try to get back to the way things were, hopefully.”

Friends and colleagues considered Arnold to be a shining example of strength and inspiration for other cancer survivors.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre County, offered a statement shortly after Arnold’s death was announced.

“We join the residents of the 48th Senatorial District and all Pennsylvanians in mourning the passing of Senator Dave Arnold. We lost a good man and committed leader much too soon,” Corman said. “From the moment voters sent Dave to Harrisburg one year ago, he worked tirelessly for his constituents and the Commonwealth. This was not a surprise to anyone who knew him. It was a continuation of a record of public service marked by independence and integrity.

In addition to securing funding for projects in his district and legislation to increase penalties for child pornography, Corman said he sponsored legislation to ensure that Lebanon County did not lose out on federal pandemic fundingand championed the cause of restaurants and other small business employers impacted by statewide business closures.

“Dave was a lifelong resident of his beloved Lebanon County, a civic leader, softball coach, husband and father,” Corman said. “Our hearts break for his wife, Alicia, and his daughter, Reese. His community and our commonwealth are better places because of the contributions of Dave Arnold.”

In lieu of flowers, Arnold’s family has requested that contributions may be directed to the Penn State Cancer Institute in his honor. Checks can be made payable to Penn State University, and should include “Brain Cancer Institute Research” in the memo line. Contributions should be mailed to the Office of University Development, 1249 Cocoa Ave, Suite 115, P.O. Box 852, Hershey, PA 17033-0852 or go to:

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