They say that people from Rock Creek are made of tough stuff. Well, Deon Lasater was no exception. Lowell Deon Lasater was born on March 22, 1947 as the youngest of 8 children to Robert “Bob” and Myrtle Mott Lasater. He grew up on the mountain as it is known in the Rock Creek area. As a boy he was blessed to be able to roam the countryside. He learned to fish, hunt and shoot all within a few miles of home. He also learned to work. While still a child he would work with his dad, keeping up with the bigger boys.
Deon lived most of his young years on that mountain except for a year when the family moved to Chicago to work. He often said that all he learned up there was how to fight. While in school, Deon began playing basketball. It was soon learned that with his height (which eventually went close to 6’5″) and his agility, he would be a great asset to the team. He was nicknamed the “Towering Star” in various newspapers and closed the old Cave in Rock Grade School with the record for the highest points in a game. Deon was named Mr. Eagle in 1966 partly for his athletic ability and partly for just being Deon.
Due to the economic challenges of the area, Deon used to travel to Dixon, IL in the summers to work. He had family there, and they helped him find a job. I think he learned to have a good work ethic around that time, and it never left him. He always admired a person who would work. Later in life when he had a large garden, he would say, “If you don’t work it, you don’t eat out of it!” Of course anyone who knew Deon knew that he was going to feed you whether you worked it or not.
July 10, 1967 forever changed Deon’s life. He was inducted into the army and Deon served Uncle Sam proudly. He was wounded at the Tet Offensive and those injuries plagued him his entire life. But being good old Rock Creek stock, he took it all in stride. He was an M-60 machine gunner who led his guys through some tough spots. He was shot down in the arm and leg as he was doing just that. One of his proudest moments was when General Westmoreland handed him his Purple Heart. Deon was lying in an army hospital bed recuperating at the time. If you know Deon, he has probably told you that story at least once.
After he returned to civilian life, Deon worked in the spar mines. There he made friendships that lasted a lifetime. He loved to tell stories of how the miners played tricks on each other. It was dangerous work and they sometimes alleviated the stress with practical jokes. Whether it was cutting the belt loops off someone’s pants, putting a “mud Puppy” in their lunch box, or nailing their boots to the ground, those guys were always messing with each other. I am sure that Deon got his fair share of tricks in, too.
After being hurt in the mines, Deon turned to law enforcement, and it was the profession that brought him both the most aggravation and satisfaction. Nicknamed “Walking Tall” he did his best to keep the peace — first as a City Marshal, then Deputy, and of course as the Sheriff of Hardin County. Deon was the first sheriff in the history of Hardin County to be elected to three consecutive terms. His secret was to always treat people the way that you wanted to be treated. As sheriff, he rarely took someone off to prison without putting $20 of his own money on the books before leaving them there. Don’t mistake his kindness for weakness though. He could take that big old foot and drop kick someone in a heartbeat if need be.
Many times it was just Deon and one deputy taking care of the entire county. Deon was the kind of sheriff who slept with his uniform on the dresser by the bed, because he never knew when the phone would ring and he would have to go. Deon left the Sheriff’s Office in December of 1994. But, up until his death, people still referred to him as sheriff when they saw him.
On August 25, 2001, Deon began another adventure. He married his soul mate, Connie. They had both been married before. Deon brought with him three grown daughters and six grandchildren, and Connie brought a teenage son. What a blended family that was. Connie often said that the best part of marrying Deon was getting those grand babies. Connie and Deon believed that love conquered all obstacles, and they tried their best to make this family work.
Deon began singing while he and Connie were married. Many people were surprised by his voice. I’m sure some of you have heard him sing “Tiger By The Tale” a time or two.
Deon enjoyed traveling. He was always ready to hit the road for an adventure. He loved meeting new people and making friends whenever he could. If Deon was your friend, you had a friend for life. He was an adopted “Price” Brother, “Conkle” Sibling and “Ashburn” Brother.
On December 13, 2005, Deon’s life changed in a few seconds and would never be the same again. As a result of injuries sustained in Vietnam, Deon fell and broke his neck. He instantaneously became a quadriplegic. He was wheelchair bound for the remainder of his life.
Deon was in Jefferson Barracks Hospital in St. Louis for the first six months after his accident. The patients and staff nicknamed him “The Mayor”, because he made a point to get to know every patient there — whether they wanted him to or not! Regardless of his injury, Deon was determined to live his life! With the help of his wife, he traveled as much as he could, taking family vacations to Tennessee. He and Connie began to sing karaoke with his lifelong friends, David and Brenda Clanton as the Shawnee Holler Bunch! Deon may have had limitations but they didn’t dictate his life. He always had a smile on his face and a word of encouragement for others.
Deon fought a valiant fight for survival, but on June 19th at approximately 10:30 a.m. at the age of 70, he took his last breath. He just simply stopped breathing. And with that his next adventure began.
Deon was proud of his accomplishments in life. He was a member of the American Legion, the VFW, the Masonic Lodge and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. He was a proud veteran and a member of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association. In April, 2015, Deon was baptized by his friend of many years, Brother Larry Lewis.
Deon is survived by his wife, Connie, and granddaughter Paige Vaughn at home; daughters: Kelly McClellan, Metropolis, IL, Shelia Thomas and Christy (Donnie) McClenahan, all of Elizabethtown, IL; son, Ira (Mirabela) Cruson of Elizabethtown, IL; grandchildren: Ryan (Amanda) McClellan, Mitchell (Hillary) McClellan, Bryce McClellan and Mollie Russell, Joseph and Dylan McClenahan, Deonna and Emma Thomas, and Adelena Cruson; great-grandchildren, Katie, Ireland, Aleah, Noah, Maddox, Maverick and Zaden; sister, Hazel (Bill) Hess of Hill City, MN; brother, Charles (Judy) Lasater, Mason, MI; brothers-in-law, Terry (Mary) Vaughn, St. Peters, MO, Charles “Bozo” (Rhonda) Vaughn of Elizabethtown, IL; sister-in-law, Lisa Davis, Hopkinsville, KY; adopted children: Sheila (Michael) Downing, Galatia, IL and Jesse (Charlene) Lampert, Dixon, IL. He leaves many nieces (especially Cindy and Ellan who helped care for him) and nephews as well as many wonderful friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents; brothers, Jim Tom, and John Lasater; and sisters, Helen Lasater Dale and Elizabeth Lasater Pratt; nephews, Larry, Jim “Diamond”, Chuck and Steven Lasater, and Rayond Dale.
TRIBUTE TO DEON LASATER
This is one of those days I never expect. But, it is one of those days I always know will invariably come.
I have already shed my tears. So, today, I don’t want anything…including sorrow…to take away from this opportunity to celebrate the life of Deon Lasater. If I were to describe him in one sentence, it would be this: “He was a true man.”
I have known Deon for almost sixty (60) years.
As the least populated county in Illinois, Hardin County has only 4,000 residents. Most outsiders would probably think growing up here is a very isolated existence. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the closest knit community I’ve ever known.
For me, being born and raised here is a badge of honor. You learn to be tough, hardworking, optimistic, loyal, strong, determined…and do all that with a sense of humor. And, everyone got a dose of character and integrity along the way.
Even when we were young, Deon was a man among kids. To be honest, he sometimes scared the “you know what” out of me at first. I want you to visualize this. Do you remember when God parted the Red Sea and Moses led the Israelites across to safety? Well, when Deon walked onto the basketball court at his first practice at Cave-in-Rock High School, all of us 90-pound weaklings moved aside as he took those giant steps right through the middle of us. His big smile was the only thing that kept me from hyperventilating!
During his first shoot around, everyone was casually grabbing balls and putting up a few shots. Suddenly, without warning, Deon bolted toward the goal, leaped like a gazelle, swiped a missed shot off the backboard, landed with a huge thud…and flailed his elbows from side to side. You could hear a pin drop. I remember thinking, “Does he honestly think we were going to try to take that ball away from him?!?” Suddenly, we noticed Coach Oxford’s eyes were glistening with excitement. He saw a man playing a kid’s game. But, Coach also saw the collective fear in our eyes. He knew what we knew. Those elbows could kill someone! So, to calm our hysteria and preserve Deon’s enthusiasm, Coach had him wear knee pads on his elbows…not just that day, but in every practice from that day forward. Of course in real games, Deon could swing those elbows to his heart’s content, because he was on our side!
I only mention this story, because I didn’t fully comprehend what I saw that day. Deon wasn’t doing anything except being himself. He approached every aspect of his life with the same level of enthusiasm. When Deon Lasater shook your hand, looked you straight in the eyes, and flashed that big grin, you knew he was something special.
He was in love with life…and life loved him back. He loved his Connie…and she loved him back. He loved God…and God loved him back, too.
Just a day before he and Connie were leaving for Florida to go ocean fishing, God chose another path for Deon’s life. Who am I to question God or what His plan was for him? But, for years, I did just that. I couldn’t understand how He allowed Deon’s terrible accident to happen. It was painfully obvious to everyone he and Connie suffered so much, lost so much.
But, the pain, agony, sorrow, and suffering of his devastating condition were simply no match for Deon and Connie’s love for God and each other. Staying in their home during our last visit to Cave-in-Rock, Wanda and I saw it with our own eyes and heard it with our own ears. This was not a house filled with doom, gloom, resentment and despair. It was a home overflowing with God, love, kindness, laughter, family, and friends.
In recent years…like most of us as we get older…I, too, have suffered many major operations and a bout with cancer. Yes, I endured pain, stress, and worry. Yes, I wondered what the future held for me. But, every time I started to become bitter and complain about my life, I thought of Deon. Instantly, I prayed to God asking for forgiveness and giving thanks for His many blessings. Greatness like Deon’s does that to a person.
Despite the odds and the staggering severity of his condition, Deon lived twice as many years as others suffering from the same tragic situation. For sure, he was a fighter. Giving up or failing were never acceptable options for Deon.
However, Wanda and I know Deon had a blessing most others did not have. He had his wife, Connie. I absolutely believe her great love for Deon and her round-the-clock commitment to his total care gave Deon those extra years. Even though I have personally witnessed her unwavering dedication, I am still in awe of her courage, strength, and countless sacrifices. Connie, you are much loved and an inspiration to everyone that knows you. You were Deon’s personal angel.
Today, in closing, we honor the life of a great man…a true man. Because of his time as Hardin County Sheriff, many people have said Deon reminded them of the famous sheriff in the real life movie, “Walking Tall.” I agree. And, for me personally, I think Deon was “The John Wayne of Hardin County.”
If I was a soldier in a fox hole during battle, I would want Deon fighting beside me. If I sought integrity, honesty, and capability in a law enforcement officer, I would choose Deon. If I needed a loyal and trustworthy friend, I would choose Deon. If God needed another great angel in Heaven, He would choose Deon…and He did.
Doen, I have never known a man that stood as tall as you…especially during those unimaginable years when you couldn’t stand at all.
God bless you, my forever friend…and thank you for spending time with all of us.
Glenn and Wanda Milligan
Delray Beach, Florida