Roger Deem: A celebration of life

  • Roger Deem poses with cousin Laura Presson.
  • A headshot of Roger Deem.
  • Roger Deem is captured in a silly moment.
  • Roger Deem as an Eagle Scout.
  • Roger Deem at a book signing event for his book on wrestling.
  • “Beauties and the Beast” was the name of the Kiwanis team on which Roger Deem played at JACIL
  • From left to right are Roger Deem, Dr. Susan Weller and George A.M Heroux, performing in "Born Yesterday" at the Jacksonville Theatre Guild in 1994.
  • In 2015, Roger Deem received the George F. Hixson Award from Kiwanis Club. He is pictured with past recipients (from left to right): Kurt Heller, Dick Cody, Terry Maggert, Hobie Hinderliter, Bob Large, Keith Bradbury and Jim Oliver.

by Eric A Thomas
Photos/Submitted to The Source

How to sum up a life? No matter what organization or cause with which he was involved, one phrase comes to mind when talking about “The Admiral,” and that is to serve others with passion.

Throughout his 62 years of life, Roger Deem was passionate about serving others through his many community organizations.

The roots of his leadership and service to others was instilled at a young age. In his youth, he was a member of Boy Scout Troop 107, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout in 1975. His scout involvement was fostered by his father, William C. Deem. From 1980-’85, Roger Deem was on staff and involved in leading Boy Scout summer camp programs.

In 1985, he relocated to Champaign to take care of his grandmother who was battling cancer. While there, he organized and functioned as the adult leader for Champaign Boy Scout Troop 524. During his tenure as their leader, he trained all but two members to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. In 2019, he digitally reproduced “Scout Games,” a book originally put together in 1977 by his father, which featured over 300 activities to benefit the young men of scouting.

Probably most noted of his service was his involvement with the Kiwanis Club of Jacksonville. Taking the lead from his father, he joined the club in 1995. In his quarter of a century membership with the club, Roger Deem served in numerous leadership roles. His many positions included director, secretary and president, as well as chairing many committees within the organization. During his tenure as president, he was instrumental in establishing the North Elementary School Partnership program, which is still very strong today. Deem worked with Kiwanis in establishing the William Deem Science Award to honor the graduating senior from Jacksonville High School with the highest grade in science.

Another award given out annually by the Kiwanis Club of Jacksonville that he was instrumental in establishing is the Wadsworth Applebee Award, which is given to recognize outstanding young leaders in Jacksonville. Recognizing the role faith plays in a community, Deem promoted the club’s establishment of a Clergy Appreciation Day and the annual observation of the National Day of Prayer. “With his keen knowledge of the club’s past, he served as the club historian for a number of years and recently wrote a book putting together some of the local club’s history,” remarked Tom Glossop, a fellow Kiwanian.

Deem’s leadership and experience in the local club led him to be selected as the lieutenant governor for division 29 of the Illinois-Eastern Iowa district of Kiwanis. At the division 29 level, he earned distinguished lieutenant governor recognition and was also selected to receive the Dr. Luis V. Amador Medallion. On the local level, he received Kiwanian of the Year in 2001 and was selected as the recipient of a Kiwanis International George F. Hixson Fellowship in 2015, the highest recognition bestowed on a Kiwanian.

Another organization with which Deem not only shared a lot of talent, but also spent a lot of time was Jacksonville Theatre Guild (JTG). During his involvement, he served on the board of directors as secretary, vice president and president. Throughout the course of JTG history, Deem was involved in many capacities on over 30 productions. Handling lighting, lobby board displays, programs and publicity for many shows was something that he gave a lot of time and effort toward. However, serving as a production coordinator for several of these shows was his crowning achievement in behind-the-scenes work. He appeared in 18 productions for the JTG and shared the spotlight with his father, William Deem, in a few shows. During his involvement with different productions, Roger Deem would design a cast book that each person involved with the show could have as a keepsake. For JTG’s 25th anniversary, he teamed up with fellow board member Elaine Smith Mead to write a commemorative book about the first 25 years.

In late 2014, Deem was hired by Jacksonville’s First Baptist Church to oversee the technical aspects of their Sunday worship services. Like everything else with which he became involved, the church fast became a family to him and in his way, he made an impact on them. He became interested in the Personal Needs Pantry, an outreach ministry organized through the church. He coordinated himself several trivia events to benefit the pantry. “It was apparent that even though Roger was a man of modest means, his heart had no limits,” commented First Baptist Church Office Manager Kim Runkle. “He was truly one of the most kind, caring people I have ever met. He would give his last dollar to someone else in need.”

Deem served as a sports photojournalist in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. For a time, he worked at the Eli Bridge Company along with his dad, as a technical writer. After Eli, he worked for several years at Production Xpress in Jacksonville. In 2013, Deem published a book titled, “The Strap.” The book was a history of professional wrestling and Sam Muchnick’s Missouri State championship.

For the last 13 years of his life, he worked for Jacksonville Area Center for Independent Living (JACIL). Through his position with this agency, he was very involved with disability awareness and well known for heading a team called “Beauties and the Beast” (made up of various Kiwanians) during one of JACIL’s main fundraisers, Wheelathon.

He started his time with them as the administrative assistant and then became the training and access facilitator. Once again, he was able to use his talents in graphic design to help, as he kept JACIL’s consumers informed through JACIL Connections, their monthly electronic newsletter. Other responsibilities included handling the food and special needs pantry requests, coordinating public service announcements, maintain the mailing database, and managing the personnel time off and training schedules.

Whether using his overall computer skills, preparing a Photoshop or PowerPoint for a presentation, or putting together a skit that often was self-deprecating … he wouldn’t hesitate to lend out those talents or any of his others. It was certain, if you needed his help, he always found the time to do so. One of his extracurricular activities that he enjoyed both as a contestant and organizer was trivia nights. “I have hosted five or six trivia nights each year for 32 years and no one was as organized, entertaining or thorough with his answers than Roger,” commented Brad Fellhauer, owner of Bogart’s Banquet Hall. “He had a real talent for utilizing graphics and Photoshop that kept everyone very entertained.”

Deem put together many fundraising events throughout the area. New Year’s Day provided the backdrop for many of these events through the years. Kiwanis Club of Jacksonville, Jacksonville Rotary club #3227, Citizen’s Police Academy, Crisis Pregnancy Center and others benefited from his expertise in the trivia realm. One of his teammates and participants in these events was Eleanor Jones. “I will always remember Roger as a gentle soul. He had a fair amount of heartache in his life, but he was always ready to help others with a smile,” concluded Jones. “He always had encouragement for others, even during the times he had difficult health problems, and he always had a strong faith in God and heaven.”

Deem passed away in Peoria on December 18, 2020. His family and friends will be remembering and celebrating his life at Bogart’s Banquet Hall, located at 2142 Old State Rd. on Saturday, May 22 at 7 p.m. During the get-together, there will be a special trivia game saluting his life. This celebration is open to all who knew Roger Deem.

Article contributors: Tom Glossop; Dick Cody; Forrest Keaton; Lori Large Oldenettel; Peggy Davidsmeyer; Charles Rice; Kim Runkle; Laura Presson; Eleanor L. Jones; Brad Fellhauer; Roger Deem’s obituary via www.dignitymemorial.com; and yours truly, Eric A. Thomas.

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