The Eulogy for Charles “Chick” Deeks
(April 21, 1938 – November 27, 2017)
Charles “Chick” Deeks was born on April 21, 1938 in East Orange. He grew up in Nutley with his mother and father, his brother Arty who was five years younger, and his sister Marilyn who was ten years younger. It was a happy childhood. Chick looked up to his father, who he idolized, and after whom he was named.
At an early age Chick began working at McQuarie’s department store, and good big brother that he was, he would commonly share a dollar from his paycheck with his younger siblings Arty and Marilyn. There were lots of aunts and uncles in the extended family, and Chick was the first born of the cousins, so he got a lot of attention at the frequent family parties that were held.
After graduating high school in 1956, Chick spent a year in college before enlisting in the Merchant Marines where he served his country for four years. Well over fifty years later Chick would recall the words his father told him as he left home the first time. “Just remember that every woman you meet is somebody’s daughter.” Throughout his life, Chick was always a gentleman consistently treating women with the respect they were due.
During his time in the service Chick was stationed in Beaumont, Texas but he took trips all over the world on oil tankers, serving as an engineer in the heat of the engine room. In South America Chick was charmed by squirrel monkeys and ended up sending one home as an exotic pet for his parents and brother and sister. Later Chick acquired one for his aunt and uncle and then another later when Chick started his own family. Amy remembers from as early as she can remember having a squirrel monkey as a part of the family until the monkey died when she was ten years old.
It was in the merchant marines that Chick determined never to have a tattoo. He recognized that the impressive tattoo on the chiseled body of a 20 year old would end up looking quite a bit less impressive on the sagging body of a sixty year old. Acquiring a tattoo, he was quick to caution was a lifelong commitment.
After four years seeing the world in the merchant marines, Chick returned home to settle down in Nutley where he began his own rug cleaning business and continued to serve in the Army Reserves. Not long after his discharge in 1961 Chick married a young woman from Nutley named Dahney. The wedding took place in the Vincent Methodist Church where Chick would remain active through the years. Before long Chick and Dahney were raising a family with Eric born in 1964, Amy in 1967 and Matthew in 1970.
In 1980 Chick entered the insurance business, staring Clover Insurance in Totowa. In the company’s peak years of the 1990s Chick had more than ten employees working for him.
Dahney contributed to the family income by babysitting children in their home. One of those children was a little Hispanic boy named Hughie who didn’t speak English. Hughie had been born without thumbs and had undergone surgery as a baby to move his index finger so that it could function like a thumb.
Hughie’s parents faced severe economic and emotional challenges, and sometimes Hughie would sleep over night in Dahney and Chick’s home. When duel tragedies befell little Hughie — first his mother took her own life, and then his father either died either by suicide or murder – with the blessing of Hughie’s extended family members Chick and Dahney adopted five year old Hughie as their fourth child.
Around the same time as the adoption a series of doctor visits led to Hughie receiving the diagnosis of an extremely rare blood disorder called “Fanconi Anemia.” At the time there were only 750 known cases in the world, and Chick and Dahney were told that Hughie would not live beyond the age of five. But nurtured by the love he received from Chick, Dahney, Eric, Amy and Matthew Hughie lived well beyond the doctor’s predictions of his life expectancy.
Although he grew to be only 4’ 11” Chick and Dahney encouraged Hughie to live a full life. He excelled on the soccer field, and was quite the pool shark. Persevering through endless doctor’s trips and stays in the hospital for surgeries and platelets and blood transfusions, Hughie lived to the age of 19. His death in 1994 broke Chick’s heart, and right up to the end of Chick’s life he would tear up whenever he talked about Hughie.
Deana Larsen was in youth group with Amy at the Vincent United Methodist Church. She remembers frequent visits to the Deeks home and how it was always bustling with activity and the children’s friends were always welcome. She distinctly remembers the excitement the whole family shared when Hughie’s adoption came through. Deana has a memory of Amy holding Hughie in her lap, happily declaring, “He’s my brother now,”clearly undaunted as she proceeded to explain to Deana the medical issues Hughie had faced and the operations he would need in the future.
Deana was struck by how different each of the Deeks’ children were – how Chick and Dahney gave them room to find their own path and explore their own interests, and the pride they took in their children. She remembers being a part of a group of children that Chick took along with his own kids to see the great Pele play his final game of soccer. Eric was quite the soccer player – the example Hughie followed in his pursuit of soccer.
In spite of all the love that was in the Deeks’ home, the marriage of Chick and Dahney wasn’t sustainable, ending in 1984. They continued, however to share the parenting responsibilities.
In 1988 Chick’s first granddaughter was born — Amy’s daughter Jehna – who proceeded to hold a central place Chick’s universe. Later other grandchildren would come along to join Jehna in that place in Chick’s heart: Eric and Janna’s children Heather, Daniel and Logan and Matt and Marcie’s children Hughie and Billy, as well as Amy and Brian’s second and third daughters, Jessica and Karissa.
And there were also five great grandchildren who climbed into Chick’s heart when they were born: Charlie, McKenzie, Lindsey, Elsa and Liza.
In 1998 Chick moved to Parsippany to take over his brother Arty’s home when Arty moved to Randolph. With the pool out back the home was the setting for many a family party. Nothing pleased Chick quite as much as seeing the children enjoying the pool.
For years Chick stayed involved in Vincent United Methodist Church back in Nutley. For years Chick would go to the church’s building on the first Monday of each month Chick to take a turn checking over the facility. It was an act of service on behalf of his church, but also a time of spiritual grounding as well.
In 2012, recognizing that it simply wasn’t practical to make the trip back to Nutley each Sunday, and wanting to introduce his granddaughter Karissa to the blessings of being a part of a church family, Chick began attending our church. We quickly fell in love with this warm-hearted man with the big smile who looked a little like Santa Claus. He seemed to quickly know he had found the right place to call his spiritual home beginning with the discovery in his first visit that there were three people who already knew him with fondness: Deana Larsen, and Bill and Amy Gripp — all graduates of the Vincent United Methodist Church youth group.
In recent years Amy, Brian and Karissa lived with Chick. He was particularly close to Karissa as will be reflected by some photos I will show you in a little while. Karissa loved to play practical jokes on her Grandpa, and Chick though he would appropriately grumble in response, the truth was he loved being the recipient of those jokes. The most famous was the time five years ago when Karissa went in to Chick’s room to wake him up, and ended up writing “I’m 74” on his foreheads and coloring a flower on each cheek.
From 1st grade through 6th grade Chick was the assistant soccer coach on Karissa’s soccer team – Amy’s right hand man — and over those year was greatly beloved by Karissa’s teammates. He enjoyed making up little songs for kids and was always quick to share a laugh. When one of the girls asked Chick about a small protruding growth on his forehead, Chick was quick with his response: “that’s my horn – I’m actually a unicorn.” This was never forgotten and from then on Chick was always known among the girls as a unicorn. There is a actually picture taken just last summer shortly after being released from the hospital in which Chick is wearing a unicorn costume belonging to Karissa. If something brought a smile to somebody’s face, Chick didn’t mind looking a little silly.
In the last two years Chick went through tough times physically with extended stays in the hospital and in nursing facilities. He was always determined to get better, always positive. He seemed to have an extraordinary tolerance for pain. He was always a favorite of the nursing staff; through all their poking and probing he never complained.
Every time I would visit Chick, the thing that struck me was the deep sense of gratitude he would express for all the love he had known in his life. He had a profound sense of joy. His consistent gratitude was particularly remarkable given that he didn’t live an especially easy life, and there were some times in his life that were truly tough. He never really retired – he kept working right up to the point in which he simply could physically do it anymore.
Chick was remarkably generous, kind and compassionate. He was free from prejudice and welcoming of all. He nurtured and sustained friendships with people over long periods of time, and never held on to grudges. “Let bygones be bygones he would say.”
When he breathed his last breath he was greeted on the far side by his parents Charles and Isabella, his brother Artie, and his son Hughie and countless friends from over the years who had made that trip before him.