On April 28, 2008, a man was murdered in our community. As logical human beings, we seek comfort in the assumption that an act of this magnitude serves only to punctuate a life full of indiscretions; that surely a man whose life's light was extinguished so viciously had done something to deserve his fate.

Few in our community have learned first hand, however, that bad things — terrible, unfathomable things, actually do happen to good people. Chuck Deatsch is one of them.

The following story is about Chuck Deatsch. It is about a life deeply rooted in family, friends and faith, not unlike so many others in our community; a life that is now mourned by those that knew and loved him well; a life whose story should be told.

Chuck Deatsch was born on Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D. on Dec. 13, 1955. He grew up in Iowa with his parents, Elmer and Donna; a sister, Theresa and two brothers, William and Daniel. He participated in sports and theatre at Clear Creek High School in the Amana area.

When he was just 15 years old, he met his future wife, Liz Therkildsen — the neighbor of an Air Force friend of Chuck’s father. It was not until years later, however, that a love connection was made. While in college, both served as attendants in a wedding for a mutual friend, and a week later Chuck asked Liz out for their first date. At the time, Chuck was a student at the University of Iowa and Liz a student at a Big Ten rival school, the University of Illinois. Their first date was an Iowa/Illinois basketball game. From that moment on, they were inseparable. They quickly became best friends and soul mates and were married on April 8, 1978, in Cosgrove, Iowa.

In 1979, on the advice of Chuck’s father, the newlyweds decided to move to Centerville with the intention of working the land. They’d been advised that there was a good community and good soil for farming. After one visit, they decided they would make this town their home. They started with 300 acres of land and a dream for a quiet life and beginning a healthy family. Their first child, Sarah, was born in 1980 and their second daughter, Kathryn, was born in 1983.

As a family, they became very active in the community through school activities and particularly through the parish at St. Mary’s Church. Chuck and Liz served as mentors for young couples preparing for marriage. They later became integral members of the RCIA team, preparing new members for life in the Catholic faith. Chuck was a lector at Mass on Sundays and held a special role of narrator for the Passion play during the Easter season.

As farmers, Chuck and Liz knew that they hadn’t just chosen an occupation.

“Farming is more than a job; it’s a way of life,” said Liz.

Chuck once wrote in an email to his daughter, “I love being a farmer because it gives you the freedom of being your own boss, setting your own hours and deciding for yourself what needs to be done and when. There is always work that needs to be done, but if you feel it is more important to be at a softball game or a track meet, then you set the work aside and you go.”

The Deatsch’s chose a life that allowed them to do the work they loved together; it was a life that allowed them to put family first. Over the years there weren’t many sporting events or theatre productions that Chuck and Liz missed. They also took time to take family trips together and continued to do so when the girls went to college and even after they’d graduated. "I never needed a girls night out; we did everything as a family,” said Liz.

Through the years, Chuck and Liz did all of the farm work themselves on their approximately 700 acres. The only exception would be when Chuck’s brothers would come down to help or when the girls could be there. The day to day operations were completely their own, even on the day that Chuck was killed.

That day began just as many others had. Liz left to fulfill her morning duties as a school bus driver while Chuck worked to set up a new Internet connection. After completing their individual responsibilities for the day, Chuck and Liz performed a rather symbolic task; together they took down a fence that separated farm ground that they’d owned for years from the land that their home stood on. They had owned the house for nearly a year, but had lived there for less than a month. With the fence removed, they felt as though they were connecting their new life with their past. They looked at the house and said, “Now it really feels like our home.”

Satisfied with the day’s work they went inside to put some final touches on their newly renovated basement. They had dinner, showered and settled down for the night. Chuck was working on the computer in one room while Liz read a book that Chuck had recommended for her, in the living room.

"That was out of the ordinary. Usually I would have been sitting in the den with Chuck while he was on the computer and watching the baseball game," said Deatsch.

Suddenly, Liz heard the dogs, Joe and Annie, barking to come in. She went to the front door and called for them in the light of the porch; Annie came in, but Joe did not. When Liz returned to the living room, Joe was at the back door- something out of the ordinary. Still, she let the dog in and sat back down to continue reading when she heard the startling sound that would change her life forever. It was like nothing Liz had ever heard before. She jumped up and went to the kitchen to look outside, then turned around expecting to see Chuck coming down the hall to question the noise. Moments passed, and he did not come. Liz made her way to the den where she found her husband lying on the floor, knowing with one look that he was already gone.

Still, Liz checked for a pulse. Finding none, she frantically called 911. After reporting the crime to the dispatcher, the reality of what had just happened washed over her. She became scared for her safety and crouched out of site between the washer and the dryer, just outside the den. The phone rang and it was the dispatcher telling her to unlock the front door. Liz told them she would when she saw the flashing lights of the law enforcement vehicles.

Wade Duley was first to arrive. Gary Anderson and Tom Demry followed closely behind. "There were questions to be answered and so I had to go to the station. From there I stayed at the rectory since my home was the crime scene," said Liz. St. Mary’s Parish continues to be a source of strength and comfort long after Liz was able to return home.

"I replay that night every day. One second everything was fine, the next it was like the power was out," said Liz. The couple had celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary less than three weeks earlier. They were looking forward to years in the future when there might be grandchildren to entertain in the new home they had just made their own. In one second, those dreams were shattered.

The life of Chuck Deatsch, a man revered in the community for his honesty and integrity, was lost on that terrible night. Throughout his lifetime, Chuck was fair and always looked for a peaceful resolution in any adverse situation. He was someone who always took the time to make children and people of all ages feel important and special. He had deep and steadfast faith which was manifested in all aspects of his life. "This was a very violent death for such a non-violent man," said Liz.

His death brought with it an immeasurable loss — one experienced by so many individuals whose lives he had touched. It is a loss that not only affects our community in the present but one that reaches into the future to those whose lives he surely would have touched and made better through his good and loving ways.

Since his death, the Deatsch’s have continually felt the absence of Chuck in their lives. Now, they will prepare to gather together without him at Christmas. For families around the world, this is a season characterized by hope and faith. For the Deatsch family, there will be hope as law enforcement officials continue to work toward answers that will solve this crime. There will be faith that community and family support will sustain them until justice is served. Liz continues to believe that her husband’s murder will be solved. “I know that someone will come forward, I just don't know when or if it will be in my lifetime.”

This Saturday, as we take the Holiday Stroll around the Square on what would have been Chuck’s 53rd birthday, there will be a memorial luminary for him in the courthouse district.

This luminary will symbolize the life he led and mimic the vibrant light of kindness and joy he brought to all who knew him. And as we light our own luminaries in our homes with candles and strings of lights, let us remember Chuck Deatsch. By doing so, we will preserve his treasured memory and ensure that our community continually works together to bring justice for his death.

Also contributing to the story is family friend, Jeanne Holzmann.



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