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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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.