By Allison Collins
SIDNEY – Following the Dec. 31, 2017 death of 92-year-old Sidney native and founding Tri-Town Theatre director Jack Deuel, many have expressed not only their sadness at his passing, but appreciation for Deuel’s far-reaching influence.
Those who knew him best remember Deuel for his immeasurable impact on community theatre, but also the joy, humor, unerring attention to detail and countless anecdotes he was always ready and willing to share.
Longtime friend and Sidney resident Pamela Wheaton, who was with Deuel when he died, called herself lucky to have known 25 years of his. Even through sharing Deuel’s last days, she said, she considered hers “an enviable position.”
“That last month I had with him before he died,” Wheaton said, “we went through nursing rooms and emergency rooms … with all of us laughing. We turned it into laughing, right down to the very end, when he died and grabbed my hand and held on tight.”
She added, “Jack was so funny … His timing was so good and his eloquence right-on. Even (when) he could hardly talk … he had us laughing all the time.”
Wheaton worked with Deuel as a Tri-Town Theatre performer and enjoyed his company during regular bridge matches, some of which she counts as her most-treasured memories.
“Driving back and forth to bridge … he’d be talking about actresses and actors from way back,” she said. “He kept stories about Greta Garbo (and) he cleaned toilets with Dennis Weaver … He just has marvelous stories.”
For former Sidney resident Scott Jerauld, Deuel’s stories and wealth of theatre-related knowledge were epitomizing.
Jerauld said, “The main thing … was his recollection for history, theatre and Hollywood, because he had worked in theatre and movie productions, so he knew so many of the old actors and actresses.”
Jerauld, a friend of Deuel’s since meeting him in 1978, added, “He had an amazing history of all that, that he could recall right to the end. That’s basically what drove his life.”
Memories of such stories and more, Wheaton said, are what will preserve Deuel’s place in her life and the lives of others.
“You start crying about losing him,” she said, “then you start remembering things about him, so you never do lose him.” Wheaton added, “He has many, many people that love him and have ‘Jack stories’ of how he changed (their) lives. There are so many people that he’s helped.”
Sidney resident Mike Banks, 43, said he met Deuel about 18 years ago, through his son’s involvement with a Tri-Town Theatre production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It was then, he said, that he became fast, lasting friends with Deuel.
“I remember the first day I met him, down at the park in Bainbridge,” Banks said, “and Jack latched right on to me that night and started getting me involved in Tri-Town Theatre.”
Banks, who went on to become a Tri-Town Theatre board member, stage manager and set builder, said, “We became very good friends. He was like a father figure, but almost more like a brother.”
Like Wheaton, Banks emphasized Deuel’s uncanny ability to conjure laughter.
“Some of (my best memories) are his sense of humor and how he could make you laugh,” Banks said. “But they’re all amazing memories. Every chance I (got) to spend time with Jack was always a memory, even right up to the end.”
Together with Wheaton, Banks helped care for Deuel during his last weeks. Though difficult, Banks said it was a job that left him feeling privileged.
“It was an honor to take care of him and it was an honor for him to be my friend,” Banks said. “Those are things I’ll never ever forget.”
Deuel, who staged and directed more than 150 Tri-Town Theatre productions, was the recipient of Sidney Chamber of Commerce’s “Citizen of the Years Award” in 2009, NYS citations and Rotary honors. Despite Deuel’s own reluctance to take credit, Jerauld said, such honors were well-deserved.
“He never was one to step up and take the accolades. He shied away from that,” Jerauld said, “(but) he always was credited with keeping the theatre and arts culture in Sidney.”