Remembering Joel Vandemore

by Claudia Loucks correspondent
Geneseo Republic

Even though the sun may be shining, there is a cloud of sadness that covers Geneseo and the surrounding communities from the loss of a man who so many called their friend – Joel Vandemore.

Vandemore, owner and operator of Vandemore Funeral Homes and Cremation Services in Geneseo and Atkinson, died unexpectedly on May 31.

Employees at the funeral homes expressed the emptiness they feel at the loss of their leader as they shared “The Vandemore Way,” something that every employee knew the meaning - “Excellence and precision was expected at every level, in every situation.”

A book of synonyms does not have enough adjectives to describe Joel, the employees said and added their thoughts: -“His memory for every service that he ever conducted was legendary. He treated us with kindness, gratitude and was generous with his appreciation. He entertained us with his witty and outrageous stories. He was convinced that he knew the definition of stylish dressing much better than the rest of us – he was probably correct! Each of us individually expressed that he was the best boss that we had ever worked for. Joel was loyal to us, generous in his gratitude and care. He trained us, he held us to incredible standards, he taught us and we loved him. Our lives will be forever better because we knew him.”

Brett VanDeWoestyne and Vandemore grew up together in Atkinson, and VanDeWoestyne has been employed at the funeral homes for the last 18 years and he said, “We were best friends.”

The friendship of the two men began in childhood and VanDeWoestyne said, “We never went apart, he lived in Chicago and then in Rock Island and we always kept in touch.”

Working together did not change anything in their friendship, VanDeWoestyne said. “Someone once said when you work for a friend, you can lose the friendship, but that never happened between us…If anything, our friendship grew stronger.”

“Joel was the person who could comfort the families who had lost loved ones and he was the person they wanted in their time of need, and it didn’t matter what time of day or night or what holiday, he was always there for them. That was a credit to his family; they knew people relied on him whether it was Christmas morning or any time of day or night.”

His friend said when they would be out together, “at a restaurant or wherever, and were getting read to leave, Joel would always say, ‘I got to go over and say hi’. He would talk to people at multiple tables and visit with them regardless of what he had going on.”

“Everyone who knew Joel knows that he was a great person,” VanDeWoestyne said.

“His death has left a large void in the community. People like Joel are very rare, but oh so valuable to a community.”

Kale Causemaker and Vandemore grew up together in Atkinson and spent time at the farm of the late Merrill Taber.

“Joel spent a lot of time working and helping at the farm and I did as well,” Causemaker said. “We worked together and took breaks together and got into a lot of mischief together.”

“He (Joel) just seemed like part of the family. We were both involved in 4-H and spent time together at fairs.”

Their friendship continued from those grade school days into adulthood and their families were friends also…”We had children who were near the same age and our friendship continued through that as well. Our kids showed livestock at the fairs also.

We always stayed in touch.”

There are people who come into your life who are more special than others, in who they are and in what they do and that was Joel,” Causemaker said. “He was so full of energy and so full of life.”

“Whenever I would think of Joel, I would have to smile,” he said. “I would feel laughter inside and he had a profound sense of humor and I think that was something that a lot of people may not have realized and maybe that was a result of his profession.”

Causemaker described Vandemore as “more than a friend and a buddy, and he said, “He was someone I admired and looked up to. Whatever he set out to do, Joel accomplished. He was one of the greatest businessmen in our area and I think many will agree, he was one of the best in his profession, he served the communities very well.”

Kim Verstraete also knew Vandemore from childhood and she also was a babysitter for Vandemore’s oldest daughter, Emma.

“I had the pleasure of working for Joel and Janel, two of the finest people I have ever met to this day,” she said. “They entrusted their daughter to my care and it didn’t take five minutes after they walked in the door with Emma for her to wrap my husband, my three sons and myself, around her little finger. Joel would bring her to our house in the morning and Janelle would pick her up in the afternoon – just great parents.”

Verstraete knew Vandemore from childhood and said, “Joel helped my brother and my Dad, (the late Merrill Taber) and my brother Mark on the farm.”

When Joel would come to the farm, the first thing he would ask my sisters and myself was if we had any empty shoeboxes. At first we didn’t know why he wanted the empty shoeboxes, but then we asked Mark and we learned what Joel did with them. He and Mark would go into the timber and find dead birds or some other dead animal and Joel would put the dead animal in a shoebox, bury the box and say a few nice words about the animal…He was a good, good man.”

“As I look back on the reel of my life, those things are on there, the days of having Emma in my care, and getting to know Joel and Janel as parents.”

“Joel was wonderful person as a child, and even more so as an adult. and we are heartbroken over losing him,” she said. “I think this is what a broken heart fells like. We all thought so much of him, both as a kid and as an adult.”

The Rev. Melva England and the Rev. Mark Graham, pastors at Grace United Methodist Church in Geneseo, knew Vandemore from a different perspective than his childhood friends and they shared, “Joel Vandemore had enormous respect for the Pastors he partnered with and we can say the feeling was mutual,” England said.

“We recognized the comfort and spiritual aid that Joel gave to every individual and family that found their way to him. We saw the compassion he showed to those who struggled emotionally and financially. We also had the privilege to ride with him on occasion as we traveled from a service to the cemetery and would visit together. As we traversed that slow route he would always ask after our family and we would ask about his, hearing of his great pride and delight in his daughters.”

Vandemore also asked the pastors about people in their church that he knew, and the husband and wife team said they often learned things they never knew form a man who was so much a fabric of the communities in this area. “And always we would share our faith,” England said. “Deep conversations about God’s love for people, about how Jesus would have us live, about how the church could lead, and it was clear that Joel had a deep love for his church and a profound respect for all the churches of the area and an abiding personal faith.”

She said, “Joel Vandemore did not just have a career, but a ministry of care that we will miss….Well done good and faithful servant, well done.”