The Reverend Harry Kammermann Deffley, 96, died peacefully in his sleep on March 27, 2022 in the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Harry was a resident of Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, Maryland. In his last days he frequently expressed his joy at the expectation of being with his Lord and of being reunited with his wife, Barbara, who died in 2019.
Harry was born on April 1, 1925, in Rochester, Minnesota. He was the fourth of five children born to Emma and Andrew J. Deffley, and was raised in Forrest, Illinois. He grew up in the company and influence of many of his mother’s relatives, who were German-speaking Swiss immigrants and their children, who were first-generation citizens of the U.S. As a child, Harry was required by his elders to understand German but to speak English. The primary source of entertainment in his family and large extended family was singing together. While growing up, Harry helped with chores at home and took part in musical activities at home, school, and in the community. At 15, he helped his father jack up the house and dig out a cellar and then replace the wooden front porch with a porch and steps composed of poured concrete. He helped regularly with tending the family’s half-acre garden. During the summers he shocked oats, baled hay, and de-tassled corn for local German-speaking Amish farmers.
Music was a lifelong joy and gift for Harry. He had a knack of being able to pick up instruments he had never played before and quickly figure out how to make music with them. He started piano lessons from a young age, played violin for a short time, learned to play the baritone in the fifth grade, and then trombone the following year. He was in the band, the orchestra, in the chorus from grade school through the twelfth grade.
He received “firsts” for vocal solos at regional contests and his high school band got a first in its class at the State Fair in Springfield, Illinois. He considered the trombone his primary instrument, and in his junior year, became the first high school student invited to play with the Fairbury Band. The Fairbury Band was a well-regarded community band that was supported by a local band tax and included excellent regional musicians as well as professionals from Peoria and St. Louis. The band gave concerts in the town square every Saturday night in the summer and played at various social events.
Following his graduation from high school, Harry went to the University of Illinois for one semester, and while there, served in the Coast Artillery branch of the ROTC. He then worked for a brief time unloading railroad coal cars, as a hand on his uncle’s farm, and as a signalman on the Wabash railroad prior to being drafted into the Navy in 1944. Harry was selected as a first tenor for the Central Choir while in boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, singing in “Meet Your Navy” broadcasts on the CBS “Blue” radio network every Saturday night. His future wife, Barbara, listened to those Saturday evening concerts with her family in southern Illinois. Harry was one of “The Dirty Thirty,” a group of 30 men selected from the Central Choir to sing on Sunday morning broadcasts for officers’ church services. A highlight of that time for Harry was when the regimental choirs were brought in to join the Central Choir and sing as a thousand-voice choir for President Roosevelt’s birthday.
Harry was sent from boot camp to electrician’s mate school at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and obtained the rank of Electrician’s Mate, 3rd class. He was on the Navy boxing team while at Purdue. Harry was an assistant section leader of one of four sections in the 150-man company. He left Purdue in June 1945, headed for the west coast and the Pacific theater. Harry’s family knew the weekend he was to ship out, and his father and uncle, both of whom worked for the Wabash railroad, figured out which train he would likely be on, and met the troop train at Decatur, Illinois, where they thought it was likely the train would make a stop. They were able to take along with them Harry’s older brother, who had arrived home from the war in the European theater just after midnight. At dawn, when the train stopped in Decatur, Harry stepped out onto the platform, and was surprised to see his father, uncle, and brother standing there. He had not seen his brother for over four years. They were able to visit for a few minutes before the train left the station for the west coast.
Harry crossed the Pacific on a slow merchant marine ship, which was overcrowded, hot, and had no amenities for any of the men but the officers. He played pinochle every day for 72 days and never again for the rest of his life, although he maintained several friendships formed in those card-playing days. Those on board expected to be in the battle force to invade Japan, but the atomic bombs were dropped during the crossing and the mission changed. Harry served in several locations in the Philippine Islands, finally working for 7th fleet Communications at headquarters in Manila.
For Harry, the most important event of his military service was that he experienced the presence of the Lord for seven consecutive nights during the crossing to the Philippines. The men slept on deck due to the heat. Night after night, Harry lay looking at countless stars and what he described as “A Presence” came to him. The Presence was very personal and loving and at the same time awesome and powerful. Harry said that he knew that he could go to the furthest star he could see and the Presence would be there. He could go to the furthest depths of the Pacific, and that Presence would be there. He found himself talking to the Presence, asking for the care of his family and friends at home. Following his discharge from the Navy in 1946, Harry resumed work briefly with the Wabash railroad and was a boxing instructor at the YMCA.
He decided to return to the University of Illinois with the benefit of the GI Bill, and majored in engineering. While at the University, he met and courted Barbara Lehr, his younger sister’s college roommate. Barbara especially enjoyed listening to Harry play the piano in the Illini Union building while he waited for her to get off work at her student job there. Harry and Barbara were married on August 19, 1950. Harry left school and went to work for Illinois Power Company and played trombone with the Elks band. He enjoyed his work with Illinois Power and when driving through various areas of the state in later years, could point out electrical lines/paths he had designed to get electricity to rural homes and communities. To the end of his life, he was talkative and animated when he saw substations and power lines, wondering aloud about the voltage and capacity. Early in the marriage, Harry came to appreciate the Christian witness and life of his father-in-law, and visited him often.
Harry respected and admired how his father-in-law’s faith and prayer influenced his decisions, actions, speech, and interactions with others.
Harry surrendered his life to the Lord at that time and he and Barbara began their journey in a Christian marriage that lasted nearly 69 years.
Barbara and Harry’s son Matthew was born in 1951. Harry’s job transferred him to Mt. Vernon, Illinois and another son, Gregory, was born there in 1954. Harry and Barbara continued to grow spiritually and, in what became a lifelong pattern, found a church family in which they could find fellowship and participate in a caring Christian congregation. Music was an important part of their home life and their participation in their church. While praying in the back yard in Mt. Vernon in 1955, Harry was called to preach and to return to school. He started preaching at a street mission in Mt. Vernon on Saturday nights. Then he and Barbara moved the family to Greenville, Illinois so that Harry could attend Greenville College, which was affiliated with the Free Methodist Church. He almost had enough engineering credits from the University of Illinois for a degree, but was led to switch his major to Philosophy and Religion at Greenville. He sang and toured with Greenville’s acapella choir while attending there. Harry was a licensed exhorter within the Free Methodist Church conference from 1955 - 1960 and visited the county jail regularly to witness to the prisoners.
Two weeks before Harry’s graduation from Greenville College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1957, Harry and Barbara’s daughter Mary was born. Still looking and waiting for a way to honor his call to preach and to go to seminary, Harry got his Illinois Teacher’s Certificate and began teaching geometry at the high school in Hillsboro, Illinois. During that time he was granted a local preacher’s license in 1958 and preached on Sunday mornings 1959-1961 at three Methodist churches in the country near Carlinville, Illinois: Rural, New Hope, and Nilwood. Barbara typed the bulletins for the Sunday services and when needed, played the organ and piano for worship.
The three Deffley children spent their time in the back seat of the car on the way to church folding bulletins to be used in the services. While still affiliated with the Free Methodist Church conference, Harry and Barbara helped to lead a high school mission trip to Kentucky and Tennessee in 1960. On that trip, Harry met a Methodist minister who, once aware of Harry’s call to preach, set things in motion for Harry to preach through the Methodist Church. A week of meetings, interviews, and discussions with several leaders within the Methodist conference ended with the arrangement made for Harry to attend Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois while serving a two-point student charge 175 miles south of Evanston. Thus began a five-year plan of study in an academic quarter-on, quarter-off system, with Barbara and the children putting Harry on the train on Sunday evenings and meeting his train home every Friday evening during his quarter-on times.
Harry was ordained as a Deacon in the Methodist Church in 1962, and as an Elder in 1966. He graduated from Garrett with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1966, with a concentration in pastoral counseling. Harry was awarded a Master of Divinity degree from Garrett in 1968. Harry’s ministry within the Central Illinois (now Illinois Great Rivers) Conference of the (now) United Methodist Church began in 1961 and ended in 1993 upon his retirement. He served churches in Georgetown, Melvin, Homer, Griggsville, Springfield, and Auburn, Illinois. In each church,
Harry and Barbara devoted themselves to congregational care and community service. Harry maintained his teacher’s license and served occasionally as a substitute teacher in the public schools. When they moved to Melvin in 1966, Harry learned that the county had no community mental health services. He researched the process of establishing a mental health association in the county with mental health experts and state legislators, and over a period of seven years, followed state laws and regulations step by step to establish the Ford County Mental Health Association and offices. This work began by recruiting and leading a board comprised of men and women from around the county, including a teacher, physician, farmer, and community leaders. Harry led the board through the process until the steps outlined by the state were completed and mental health services established in the county in 1973. Following the mental health work, Harry served for a number of years in the 1970’s and 1980’s on the board of the United Methodist Minister’s Credit Union of the Central Illinois Conference. He served as a board member, as Vice-President, and President.
During his term as President, the credit union switched from a paper to a computer-based system, and for the first time crossed the million-dollar mark in assets. Harry was active with groups opposing the legalization and expansion of gambling in Illinois. He supported organizations opposed to gambling, participated in lobbying efforts with state legislators, and testified in legislative hearings regarding the negative impact of gambling on individuals and the community. Harry and Barbara were active in the Walk to Emmaus in Springfield in the 1980s and 1990s and developed many enduring friendships within that community. They also supported the United Methodist summer camp programs, and particularly enjoyed serving as camp counselors at Jenson Woods. Following Harry’s retirement in 1993, he and Barbara helped – with literally, thousands of phone calls and flyers - to establish a new church in Chatham, Illinois. The Sugar Creek United Methodist Church met for several years in a rural school, and then in a sanctuary and fellowship hall built on land donated across the road. Harry volunteered at Sugar Creek as the visiting pastor, calling on the sick, homebound, hospitalized, and people in nursing homes. He and Barbara team-taught an adult Sunday School class, as well as Disciple Bible Class I, II, III, and IV. They sang in the choir and were very active in the meetings and mission of Sugar Creek UMC.
Over the years, Harry played the piano for various events in the conference and at Sugar Creek. In 2005, at the age of 80, Harry got a rented trombone as a Christmas gift. He had long since given his own trombone to his son Matthew, so that Matthew could play in the school band. Harry started practicing with the rental trombone and soon was rehearsing with the University of Illinois – Springfield pep band and playing with them at basketball games. He also played with a group that performed at local events around the county. He was delighted to be playing the trombone again. Harry and Barbara moved to the Asbury Methodist Village retirement community in Gaithersburg, Maryland in 2011. They joined the Encore Choir, which performed at the Kennedy Center later that year. They started and led a weekly Bible study in their apartment, and volunteered for various committees in their building. They attended Grace United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg, and Harry played the piano for the monthly men’s breakfast meetings.
Harry and Barbara particularly enjoyed participating in the adult Sunday School class at Grace UMC.
Harry is survived by his son Gregory Deffley and his wife Peggy (Moorestown, NJ); daughter Mary (Deffley) Kurfess (Gambrills, MD); daughter-in-law Kay G. Deffley (Savannah, GA); sister Eleanor (Deffley) Santos (Glenview, IL); grandchildren Brenda Lackey and wife Cathy Scheder (Stevens Point, WI); Barbara Beam and husband Danny (Savannah, GA); Christopher Nicholas (“Nick”) Deffley and wife Ruthie (Savannah, GA); Kenneth Andrew (“Andrew”) Deffley and wife Debbie Ubele (Marlton, NJ); Kathleen Deffley (Wichita, KS); John Deffley Scaggs (Crofton, MD); and great-grandchildren Caleb Matthew Deffley (Savannah, GA); Mirabelle Esperanza Deffley (Savannah, GA); Luke Robert Deffley (Marlton, NJ); sister-in-law Marilyn (Lehr) Falk (Decherd, TN); sister-in-law Carla Lehr (Coulterville, IL); sister-in-law Katherine Lehr (Oakdale, IL); and numerous and beloved nephews, nieces, and cousins. Harry was preceded in death by his wife Barbara; son Matthew B. Deffley; son-in-law James D. Kurfess; his parents, Andrew and Emma Deffley; infant brother John Deffley; brother Clarence Deffley and his wife Eleanor; sister Rosalind (Deffley) McKenzie and her husband Bruce; brother-in-law Samuel G. Lehr and his wife Marie; sister-in-law Virginia C. Vancil and her husband Wayne; brother-in-law Philip C. Falk; brother-in-law Howard Lehr; and brother-in-law Sherman Lehr.
A memorial service at Sugar Creek United Methodist Church, Chatham, Illinois will be held at 2:00 p.m. on July 23, 2022, with the Reverend Paul Dinges officiating. Cremains will be interred in a private service at Roselawn Memorial Park in Springfield, Illinois. Harry knew many people at different times and different locations in his life and supported many churches, causes, and organizations.
He would be honored by a memorial gift by individual choice or to any of the following concerns, listed here alphabetically, and not by preference: