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Dana and Tan-Gee Deem's Volksmarche of Life
By Deborah Turner

HOMETOWN TRANQUILITY: Finally settled after 19 moves over 21 years of military life, Tan-Gee and Dana Deem relax in the family-room of their Dana-designed dream home with two of their pets, Lady Bug and Bingo.

Tan-Gee Deem, as always, is "piddling." Her hands are seldom idle, at home or even at football games, she's busy at her crochet, her current endeavor being to make a big afghan for each of the Deems' three children before starting any more projects.

He husband, Dana, kicks back in his big blue recliner, relaxing after a full week as McKenzie's City Clerk. A job that takes in much more than the recorder duties performed at various council and board meetings, Dana's office seems the hub of the goings-on at City Hall, and it's a job he enhances through his volunteer capacities. He is a member of the Carroll County Boards for RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer program), United Way, and Carl Perkins Exchange Clubs Center for Abused Children. He was President of the Lions Club last year and is President of Data Quest Systems Users Group. He was a soccer coach for seven years, until son James outgrew the current age limits for the sport. He and Tan-Gee are both active members of Long Heights Baptist Church. He has been actively involved in the Kairos prison ministries - presenting three-day short courses in Christianity to groups of 40 inmates twice a year - since 1994, following in the footsteps of his late father. Aside from those things, Dana thrusts himself wholeheartedly into projects such as the recent 9-11 Memorial Service and other citywide celebrations.

Tan-Gee finds her own fulfillment in keeping the home fires burning after busy days as Bethel College's Registration Counselor, where she evaluates the transcripts of the school's over 1000 students, skills mastered over many years as a civil service education counselor for military personnel and their dependents in Arkansas and Germany.

Through glassed doors leading to the front porch from the family-friendly den of the sprawling dream home designed by Dana, the sun sets in magical colors past densely wooded hills in the couple's Mixie farm, a location chosen and purchased some years before Dana's retirement from the military.

"I told her I don't care where we go as long as we're together," says Dana, the feelings behind his words of a decade ago still fresh. After years of purposeful wanderings - Tan-Gee counts 19 moves over 21 years - it was time to come home to McKenzie, a place the couple was comfortable about raising their family.

The couple's dark, deeply carved family-sized dining room table, overlaid with glass, is just one item in their home reminiscent of the early days of their lives together that began in the Philippines.

After graduating from high school in McKenzie in 1975, Tan-Gee's Air Force recruiter extended her date of entry for a year while she pursued her first year of college at Bethel, financed through scholarships provided by the Rotary Club and VFW. Though Tan-Gee traveled far from home over the next 20 years, the investments made by the two entities in time reaped a welcome harvest.

Her first duty station was Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines in 1976, where she was assigned to the same supply squadron and dormitory as Dana Deem, who had already spent a year on the island before Tan-Gee's arrival. After "eight or nine months" of dating, the couple married, spending their honeymoon - and later their first anniversary - in Hong Kong.

Two years later, new orders took the couple to McGuire AFB in New Jersey, where they would spend their next five years and have their first child in 1980.

With four years in the Air Force, 1980 marked Tan-Gee's re-enlistment date, however, circumstances virtually guaranteed a one-year "remote" tour in Saudi Arabia away from her family if she re-enlisted at that time. "I didn't want to be away from Holly - I couldn't," she explains plaintively. She extended her enlistment for as long as she could, then opted for a discharge over leaving her family.

While still at McGuire AFB, with Tan-Gee now Dana's dependent, the couple earned their bachelor degrees through Southern Illinois University, his in industrial technology and hers in education.

The family moved on to Blytheville AFB in Arkansas where they spent the next five years. Tan-Gee quips, "We got two degrees and two children while in Arkansas." Jennifer was born in 1985 and James in 1987, and both Tan-Gee and Dana earned master's degrees in operations management through the University of Arkansas.

With their family formed and their studies behind them, their next tour of duty to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany proved to be their finest. "Those were my favorite years," Tan-Gee says wistfully as Dana agrees. "And our children, too," Tan-Gee adds.

The couple tries to explain: "Here, even in McKenzie there are so many distractions. In Germany there is no television, no computers..." Tan-Gee recalls that shops shut their doors at noon on Saturday and weren't open on Sunday at all, giving families time to be together.

Dana and Tan-Gee enjoy a volksmarche through the woods of Germany. Other walks carried them into France, Holland, and Belgium.

A favorite pastime for Germans, the volksmarche or volkswanderung - meaning people's walk - became a favorite of the Deem family as well. Volksmarche clubs would mark trails winding through the city and into the woods. Along the way, hosts at checkpoints would stamp walkers' cards to show their progress along the route. At the end, rewards were double: steamy hot tea and little desserts, plus a stein for completing the course.

The walks were more than just exercise and togetherness for the family; they explored Germany, France, Holland and Switzerland through the volksmarches. In the early years, James rode in a backpack carried by Dana, and the family poodle, Boo-boo - also sometimes carried - enjoyed the excursions as well. Photos remind the family of bitter cold walks in Holland through acres and acres of brilliantly colored tulips, and walks along trails in Germany that continued into France, with no border controls for walkers.

The Deem's home sports rows and rows of steins for the many 10-kilometer (six mile) walks they completed together. Steins with gold around the rims reveal the days the troupe walked the whole 20 kilometers as the children grew older.

"Some people say Germans are cold," says Tan-Gee, "and they are, but they were so nice to us. They would say they were glad to see Americans enjoying a family walk, and they were always so helpful, wanting to give us hot tea and desserts, telling kids they did a good job... It was a good time."

She laughs upon recalling what was supposed to be a 10K walk with a friend in Southern France, that turned into around 50K of a 100K walk when they became lost. Starting at 9:00 a.m., the two kept passing checkpoints until by 1:00 they were "just trying to figure out how to get out of the woods" on the poorly marked trails. Finally emerging at around 4:00 p.m., the hosts manning the tent at the finish line congratulated them for such a fine walk. "Instead of getting one award, they gave us two awards," Tan-Gee laughs, "They thought we did it on purpose and we got lost."

Dana explains, "In France they don't mark the trails well. They use sawdust, rocks, or a pile of leaves." If it rains or someone kicks the rocks in passing, the marker is gone. Also, he continues, chuckling, "France has habit of adding two-to-five kilometers. Germany cheats, too; they'll make the trail nine kilometers instead of ten."

The two also appreciated being able to learn history first hand. They visited General George S. Patton's grave in Luxembourg and the concentration camps in Dachau. "We wanted the kids to understand why we were in Germany," says Dana. The family entered Germany early enough to see the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Germany, and were still there when it was brought down. Photographs taken by the Deems' show the Western side of the wall filled with graffiti; the other side, unpainted, was instead marked by razor fire, mine fields, German Shepherds and guard towers.

"When we went over in 1988 people were still being killed coming over the Berlin Wall," Dana relates. "The border was fortified not to keep people out - well, it was - but also to keep people in. It was interesting time to be in Europe."

"History changed so much before our children's eyes," Tan-Gee agrees, as Dana explains, "Going from West Berlin to East Berlin was like stepping off into a black and white photograph, even after they were unified. West Germany had progressed like the United States while in East Germany people waited eight to ten years to buy a Trabant (or 'Trabby') which was an East German vehicle that seated four people and had a 700 cc motorcycle engine... They've come a long way, wouldn't think they could ever join those two countries peacefully."

When Desert Storm / Desert Shield commenced, Americans stationed in Germany lost a lot of privileges. The children were confined to base, missing the cultural field trips that were a mainstay of American Department of Defense schools. Called off was an already scheduled week of skiing in Austria.

The family left Germany in 1995 when Dana received orders to report to the Pentagon. He had cross-trained from aviation supply to management engineering after achieving his master's degree, and his job at the Pentagon was to audit the use of manpower by the military.

Before heading for Washington, D.C., the family spent two weeks in McKenzie visiting family. "It was culture chock for them," says Tan-Gee, "They had never been in Wal-Mart before. They squeezed my hand and said, 'I thought you said only Americans would be here... those people over there are speaking German.' It was the Amish," Tan-Gee smiles.

Dana's new assignment took him back to his hometown in Woodbridge, Virginia, 20 miles from Washington D.C. There, he was in for a shock of his own. The small town where he had grown up playing the clarinet in the marching band, and where he was a boy scout and a member of the volunteer rescue squad from the age of 16 until he left home at 18, had "grown exponentially."

"It was like growing up in McKenzie and coming home to find Jackson or Memphis. There is a tremendous amount of people there."

When his final 18 month tour of his 21-year career was completed, the family didn't find it hard to come home to McKenzie, especially after a gun went off in Holly's English class, passing through her desk just 15 minutes after she had left early for a doctor's appointment.

In McKenzie, Dana first took a job with Tecumseh in Trenton where he remained for some months before being hired by former Mayor Gene Anderson in 1996 for the city clerk position. He also joined the Fire Department in an attempt to reclaim his old love of the job from his youth. Though he was lauded in 1997 as fireman of the year, he says, "I found out right quick I couldn't strap all that gear on and act like I was 25 years old again." When the family built their home and moved to Mixie later that year, his firefighting days came to an end.

Tan-Gee worked with her aunt for a time at Nanney's Florist, then began working at Bethel College in her field. "They needed someone that knew what I was doing," smiles Tan-Gee, whose previous years as an education counselor had won much acclaim as she added classes and opportunities for military personnel and their dependents in Blytheville and Germany.

When asked about the future, Tan-Gee's thoughts go to the children: Holly will graduate from Bethel College this year and hopes to work for the Carl Perkins Center. Jennifer will graduate from high school and has plans to enter the military. James is a freshman at McKenzie High School and plans to attend Bethel College upon graduation.

Dana's thoughts are never far from his job. "I'd like to see a walking trail the whole length of College Drive," he dreams, "with decorative lighting like in Paris and Huntingdon. We need to create some recreational activities out there - new soccer fields and new tennis courts with joint use between the town, college and schools."

He dreams of recycling the old tennis courts, covering one to form another picnic pavilion, and using the others for things like basketball or roller blading. "Honestly the barn is used every week and it's such a pretty site I'd hate to just leave it," he says.

He also dreams of greater involvement from local citizens. "Tan-Gee and I have lived in countries where the right to vote is not assured - like the Philippines," he says, "Either there wouldn't be another candidate or he would be dead."

Tan-Gee agrees. "You know how they voted there? With their thumb," she declares, demonstrating with a thumbs up gesture. "The average citizen needs to get more involved," Dana says, considering the important work of volunteers he says care enough about their town enough to get involved. "I really wish more people would get involved," he says wistfully.

As for himself, Dana is gearing up for another Kairos venture at the West Tennessee State Prison in Henning, this time attending just one day where he will serve as "the only man in the kitchen." The crew will be providing meals for 100 people, in addition to which every team member going inside commits to bring 100 dozen cookies each for distribution to prisoners. "You'll never find a place that needs Jesus more than a prison," he says.

Tan-Gee's parents are Cherry Rittenberry and the late Roy Fae Johnson. Her sister is Renee Brown and her brothers are Trent, Ty and Mike Johnson. Dana's mother, Elizabeth, moved to Tennessee to live with the family before passing away in 1998.

  2002 Feature Archives:  
01-02-02 - Mrs. Helen Webb
01-09-02 - Marty Poole
01-16-02 - Tucker Family
01-23-02 - Clarence Norman
01-30-02 - Davis Family Firefighters
02-06-02 - Presbyterian Church
02-13-02 - Bill and Edna Heath
02-20-02 - Adoption Reunion
02-27-02 - Taiwanese Culture
03-06-02 - Doris Graves
03-13-02 - Genealogical Library
03-20-02 - Genealogical Library
03-27-02 - Lose Weight for Health
03-30-02 - Jayma Shomaker
04-10-02 - Brother Bud Merwin
04-17-02 - Bike Race
04-24-02 - Clifton Cruse
05-01-02 - Mary Mertens
05-08-02 - Shekinah Lakes
05-15-02 - Allison Bowers
05-22-02 - Tim Marr
05-29-02 - Christine Pinson
06-05-02 - Billy Riddle
06-12-02 - George & Wilma Chapman
06-19-02 - Betsy Perry
06-26-02 - No feature this week

07-03-02 - Alvin Summers/ VIP
07-10-02 - Ed Harrell USS Indy
07-17-02 - Ezra Martin
07-24-02 - Darra Adkins
07-31-02 - Alisha Walker
08-07-02 - GLM Industries
08-14-02 - Robert Martin
08-21-02 - Tammy Foster
09-04-02 - Warren Barksdale
09-11-02 - Angie Smith 9-11
  2001 Feature Archives:  
  06-13-01 - Desert Storm Reunion
06-20-01 - Ida Hughes
06-27-01 - Chuck Slaughter
07-04-01 - Vernon Bobo
07-11-01 - Dixie Carter Reunion
07-18-01 - Jackie Burchum
07-25-01 - Dr. A.D. Marshall
08-01-01 - Dr. C.E. Pipkin
08-08-01 - Jeff Gaia
08-15-01 - "Bird Dog" Reed
08-22-01 - Habitat for Humanity
08-29-01 - Brown Foster turns 96
09-05-01 - Lady's FOOTBALL!
09-12-01 - Webb School Story
09-19-01 - Jimmy Sinis
09-26-02 - Small Town, U.S.A.
10-03-01 - Oscar and Sara Owen
10-10-01 - Bobby Pate
10-17-01 - Dennis Trull
10-24-01 - Willard Brush
10-31-01 - Cindy Summers
11-07-01 - Eddie Moody
11-14-01 - Shriners
11-21-01 - Roberta Taylor
11-28-01 - Miss Agnes Bryant
12-05-01 - Cherokee Wolf Clan
12-12-01 - Mr. Paul Carroll
12-19-01 - Mr. J.C. Popplewell
12-26-01 - RSVP Angel Choir

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