A Tribute to Joe

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by Chris Wilbeck

Sept 2010

My dad, Joe McDermott, loved to host events.  While they were mostly simple - like a picnic at his hobby farm in Adel - he'd liven things up a bit by throwing in something different. Once, it was a haywagon ride to a hill on his land that he pronounced was the "highest point in Dallas county."  The hill was topped, of course, with a flagpole marking the exact spot.  Now, I don't know if it really was the highest point, but nobody seemed to care when they jumped on the back of Dad's wagon and let him pull them to the top of the hill with one of his many old Farmall tractors.

Kevin and I did the same kind of thing when we held our "Move the Shed" party.  We were moving a shed from our neighbor's place across the road to our place and decided to make an event of it.  A bit of Joe McDermott thinking, I dare say, had crept into our Farmhouse Life thinking. 

As we were getting the barn all spiffied up for a music event, folks kept asking about the flag that was hung by the stage in the barn. What country did it represent? Why was it there? To be honest, there was no conscious reason why Kevin hung the green, white and orange Irish flag behind the stage. It just looked right there. Thinking about it later, we realize that it is right there.  It happens to be my Dad's flag and represents his Irish ancestors who settled right here in Greene County. It now also represents our tribute to him and his event-loving philosophy.  A perfect touch, given that the barn is a perfect place for crazy-fun events given by the likes of Joe McDermott.

Dad passed away December 2008.  Below is a photo of him on one of his beloved old tractors, followed by a tribute written for his visitation service.

Joe McDermott on one of his many antique Farmall tractors.  Dad passed away December 2008.

A Tribute to My Dad – Joe McDermott                                                                               
January 1, 2009

By Chris (McDermott) Wilbeck 

"You’re no good, but I like ‘ya.”  Often, this was accompanied by an occasional wink and finger point.  If you were a kid, or even a grown-up for that matter, you were likely to hear this at least once from Joe McDermott.  Probably more, if you were a friend of mine, my brother or sister.  If you were one of his nieces or nephews, you could count on hearing it, like you could count on green bean casserole at every McDermott family gathering.

Family, friend or stranger, Joe McDermott would talk to you.  If you were from Greene County Iowa (“Greene County USA,” he would profess with pride) where he grew up, he was sure he probably knew you or someone in your family.  After recently moving to Greene County, I’ve learned that he was probably right. But, it didn’t matter where you came from.  He loved to talk, tell stories and repeat his share of jokes or the quarter-behind-the-ear trick.

His gregariousness set us up more than a few times for a good laugh.  The most memorable was a trip to a wax museum (when we were children) where he told “Fred” that he didn’t like his sweater.  My mom, the kindest soul you’ll ever meet, was horrified.  “Joe,” she gasped.  I followed sheepishly with, “That’s not very nice.” Dee Dee, pretty young at that time, didn’t quite know what to say.  Mike chuckled.  He was in on it.  Dad was talking to a wax dummy stationed like a visitor viewing the exhibit.  I must say it was a terrific hoax.  “Fred” did look real.  After hearing me tell the story over and over again, my son Jacob now tells it with great fineness and just the right amount of inflection.  I hope he will retell it to his own grandchildren many times over.

Wax museums were not the only required stops on family vacations.  Those were my Mom’s picks.  AK-SAR-BEN was my Dad’s.  He loved to go to the horse races.  If we weren’t swimming at the Holiday Inn, we were at the track in the kiddie paddock or next to him watching him “calculate the odds.”  I think that’s what he enjoyed most.  He had a fantastic knack for numbers, one of the reasons why he was good in his profession of finance.  He wasn’t a big gambler.  Don’t get me wrong, he liked to win “big.”  But, he also seemed to get a kick out of winning from the $2 bet he placed on a horse we kids picked because we liked the horse’s name or the color of the jockey’s jersey.

Horse race gambling may have been a bit of an extravagance for a man who was pretty practical with his money.  When the family went out to eat after church on Sundays, we could only get “one thing.”  We lived a nice middle class life, not wanting for much and not getting too much. 

That didn’t mean Dad didn’t have fun with gift-giving.  Every Christmas, in addition to the gifts from Santa, he’d give us a new towel boxed with a giant Snickers bar. He said we never had enough towels.  And, when it came to his gift, he’d always shake it and guess that it was a “new pair of overshoes” or a “baseball bat with a hole in it.”

Once, on a whim, he took Mike, Dee Dee’s husband Pat, and my husband Kevin to G & L Clothing and told them to buy “whatever they wanted.”  Mike came back with a new pair of shoes, Pat a new coat, and Kevin a new pair of overalls.  That pair of overalls was later topped by the old Farmall C Dad bought for Kevin for “when we get our farm place some day.”  Kevin now uses that tractor for everything -- from plowing snow to moving sheds -- and says he thinks it was one of the best gifts we’ve received when we moved to the country.

Life in the country was something you couldn’t shake from Joe McDermott.  Even though he eventually left the farm to work in finance, the farm never left Dad.  He was proud of his Jamaica roots and talked fondly of the people and all the little towns nearby.  We heard about when he skipped school to go to the sale barn in Rippey and when his dad brought chicks home from the hatchery in Dawson. We’d hear stories about his family’s ponies, Star and Midnight, and recollections of the stellar sports teams of Jamaica, Cooper and Yale.  Even though he grew up during the Great Depression when times were tough, he told many happy tales of his life with his parents, brother and sisters and of the simple pleasures of being a country boy. This delight in simple pleasures stayed with him and is probably why he would make grand gestures out of seemingly small events like the haywagon ride to “the highest point in Dallas County” or the “slowest-tractor race,” both held on his hobby farm purchased after his retirement.

Behind all the winks, jokes, silly gifts and grand events was a good, kind, thoughtful and generous man. He had a gift for making people feel special and needed, even when they were the ones who needed the help.  He would often take time to visit those who were lonely or sick.  When he let the Raccoon Valley Little League use his University Ball Park one season when their park flooded, their newspaper ad of thanks summed it up perfectly with the header, “You’re a Good Guy, JOE McDERMOTT.” 

Dad, we’re all going to miss you.  We love you and are grateful for all that you taught us about life and living.  And so, in this farewell and tribute to you, we all say to you, “You’re no good, but I like ‘ya.” (wink ...point)

With great love and respect,
Your Family

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