Rev. Leon C. De Garmo
For several months, we have been looking forward to paying tribute to my father, Leon C. De Garmo. On this day we gather in southwest Florida to honor a man who began his life eighty years ago on the western slope of Colorado. I have noticed in our family, that we are willing to give appreciation, but we normally deliver it in a plain brown wrapper. When a De Garmo says, “You did a good job,” do not receive it as a lukewarm, polite acknowledgement. We mean it. You did a good job! We want to tell Dad a little more than that this weekend. This is a milestone birthday that serves as a good excuse for us to say some things to Dad, and to others about him that just need saying.
As the oldest son, I observe that Dad's parenting style is not geared toward the verbal, even though he is a very verbal person. We learn from him, what Dad models. He and I never had a talk about being a husband, but I learned from him, by example, how to love my wife. Likewise, I do not recall receiving any parenting advice from him, nor have I sought it from him; instead I think I just absorbed it. A couple of weeks ago Bill Murray tweeted, “As you get older you realize that the ‘cool’ parents were actually just bad parents.” I am reasonably certain that neither my siblings nor I would put our parents in the “cool” category. I am equally sure that we agree that our parents were good parents, even though our family values at times put us at odds with fashion and mores of the time. Now that my own nest begins to empty, I more fully understand the goal of parenting is to pour godly values into our children, setting them free in the right direction. Dad aimed us true, and then set us free, with full confidence in the Lord to whom he dedicated each of us.
Industry is a word from another era, but it definitely applies to Dad. He is not a workaholic, but he is a hard worker. I remember the leisurely times around the fireplace while watching Star Trek, a bowl of popcorn during The Waltons, or a picnic at Lake Geneva. But just as vivid a memory is Dad working on a project well into the night. He didn't hire a handyman for anything that I can recall, he is the handyman. Only after I moved out of the house did Dad gain full-time employment from the ministry. Always, there was a second job; there were others, but I remember U.S. Plywood in Milan, Illinois, then the Swiss Maid Bakery in Harvard, Illinois. The Cassens, Grandma and Grandpa De Garmo, and our family shared a garden so we grew much of our own food. I searched my memory in vain to recall ever buying a bookshelf or a storage cabinet; no sir, such things are handmade in the De Garmo tradition. Wal-Mart would have gone out of business if they had depended on us in the 1960's and 70's.
As I entered the ministry, I learned the terminology for something I witnessed firsthand for my entire life: servant leadership. More than any minister that I have known, Dad led his churches by loving them and serving them. The same industry that we saw at home applied to the church. Dad, in those years, didn't use words like "a ministry philosophy," but here is what it is: Preach the Word. Be authentic. Work hard. Love the community.
Dad is a man with an extremely active and curious mind. I suspect that curiosity inspired a desire to travel, to see grand sights, to be where great things happened. Somehow we grew up believing that museums were the coolest places. Without doubt, we learned more on summer vacations than we ever did in the classroom, with the possible exception of spelling.
Dad loves people—to talk to them, work with them, and laugh with them. And you don't need to wonder, he will do what he promised, and do the right thing, no matter what.
We are all grateful to the Lord for the remarkable health that Dad has enjoyed. But he has carried his share of grief. I admire how Dad has gracefully moved from one stage of life to the next. His wife—and my mother—Lillian died much too soon in 1983. Five years later my father became a grandfather for the first time when our daughter, Kristin, was born. Over the years, the distance prevented our children from growing up with Grandpa, but our visits to Florida have been wonderful memories for us and our children. More than once we recalled the invisible insects that drove us from a picnic site, and the pontoon boat ride that was highlighted by the motor getting caught in a crab trap.
In 1990, Dad married Fern after they reconnected as Bible college classmates. I am proud of Dad’s love and obvious devotion to Fern and to her family for the past twenty three years. And, I am thrilled that my father continues to serve his Lord Jesus Christ as an ordained minister in the Cape Coral and North Fort Myers area of Florida. He is now the patriarch of our extended family and carries that mantle well, a genuine man of God.
Gregory David De Garmo
Today, we remember our youngest child, Gregory, who went to be with the Lord one year ago. In the past year, we have experienced the grace of God in large doses. There is no other way to express it: Losing a child hurts—a lot. But the presence of God has sustained us, the Word of God has encouraged us, and the people of God have embraced us.
Gregory was born with lissencephaly, a congenital malformation of the brain. This condition left him profoundly developmentally delayed. He was twenty years old. After his passing, we received scores of wonderful expressions, one from a missionary friend who recalled how much that a young man who never spoke taught the people that he touched.
God shaped our family to care for Gregory. Our daughters are amazing. Truly precious was the relationship that Kristin and Stacey shared with their “little brother.” People have said nice things about us. But we deserve no praise; we are not perfect people. We did not manage every difficulty with aplomb. I confess to more than one pity party and an occasional grumble. If anyone deserves praise, it is Ruth. Her unflagging devotion and apparently endless energy that she extended to her son are difficult to describe. She served him endlessly without one word of complaint. That is love.
God shaped me through Gregory. The shape of his mold is love, and I aim to live the rest of my life with a Gregory-shaped heart. Today, I remember Gregory. I miss him sitting beside me in his wheelchair, but I am glad to know that he is with the Lord.
One year later, my reflections are quite simple. God asked us to love a very special boy, to care for him until his room in the Father’s house was ready. It was our joy.
David L. DeGarmo (D. Min.) serves Global University as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology. Along with his wife Ruth, he is also a U.S. Missionary. He has extensive experience as an educator, missionary, and pastor.
David writes an additional blog on a variety of topics. Check it out...